The media has been abuzz this week with stories involving sexual abuse or harassment of some kind. Perhaps the most tragic and bothersome involves the Penn State scandal where a former football coach abused young boys for a period of fifteen years. The most disturbing aspect of this case, in my opinion, concerns the failure of officials to report the abuse to law enforcement authorities.
Failure to report the physical or sexual abuse of a child is a crime in many states. Many states have enacted child protection laws in such a way that certain professionals have specific duties in terms of reporting the abuse of a minor.
In today’s Boston Globe, there is a report concerning a study of physicians and their own reporting of suspected abuse. The study concludes that doctors are often very adept at diagnosing the physical injuries associated with child abuse but not so good at reporting it to the proper authorities.
According to the Globe, “A group of researchers led by Dr. Robert Sege of Boston Medical Center compared how primary care providers responded in 92 child injury cases to evaluations by child abuse experts.
They found that reporting was warranted in 13 of the 63 cases doctors chose not to report to authorities. Most of those cases involved leg fractures or bruises to the face or ear, and in six cases the physicians themselves had identified a high likelihood of abuse.
Sege, professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine and medical director of the child protection team at Boston Medical Center, said most primary care providers are trained in how to identify child abuse injuries.
“We need to go the next step and talk to them about why they need to report, how they report, what information they need to provide,” he said.
Massachusetts is among states that require physicians to report suspected child abuse. But deciding when to report a case is tricky, the authors noted. Delayed reporting leaves a child at risk, while unnecessary reporting can cause family disruptions.”
That’s the difficulty. None of these decisions are easy or without consequences. That’s why proper training and colleague support is so crucial if children are to be protected from injury and harm.
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