UA Children's Research Center Study Results Advocate Active Screening For Domestic Violence in Pediatrics Clinics

Children whose mothers suffer domestic abuse are at increased risk of being abused themselves.

UA Children's Research Center Study Results Advocate Active Screening For Domestic Violence in Pediatrics Clinics

Children whose mothers suffer domestic abuse are at increased risk of being abused themselves. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that, "Child abuse occurs in one-third to three-quarters of families that experience domestic violence." Identifying these women, and taking steps to intervene, may be one of the most effective ways to prevent child abuse.
An article recently published in the online journal, BMC Medicine, by Richard A. Wahl, MD, Doris Sisk, MSW, and Thomas M. Ball, MD, researchers at the University of Arizona's Steele Memorial Children's Research Center, shows that active screening to identify families that experience domestic abuse could significantly help physicians to identify these cases and to protect children.

As reported in their study, "Clinic-based Screening for Domestic Violence: Use of a Child Safety Questionnaire," Dr. Wahl, Ms. Sisk and Dr. Ball asked all families who visited the UA pediatric clinic over a two-year period to complete a child-safety questionnaire. The questionnaire explicitly asked parents questions about their experiences of domestic violence, such as, "Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who has hit you, kicked you, slapped you, punched you or threatened to hurt you?"

A total of 7,070 questionnaires were completed, and 138 people revealed that they currently were exposed to domestic violence. This is equivalent to 2 percent of those screened.

The researchers then compared the number of cases of domestic violence identified prior to the implementation of active screening with those identified when the questionnaires were in use.

"Using the child-safety questionnaire significantly increased the odds of detecting current domestic violence, with 73 percent of the cases identified being attributable to the use of the questionnaire," write the study's authors.

They continue: "An estimated 40-plus cases per year of current domestic violence would probably have been missed in our clinic without active screening. With the implementation of active screening for domestic violence, those parents were assessed and referred to social service agencies while still in our clinic."

The researchers note that the initiation of active screening dramatically increased the need for clinical social services support. Once the staff at the clinic had begun to ask questions about domestic violence, they received requests for assistance on an almost daily basis.

"The pediatric clinics may be the ideal environment in which to screen for domestic violence," said the researchers, who are continuing to use the questionnaire as a clinical tool. As the AAP notes, "Abused women are often reluctant to seek care for their own injuries but usually continue seeking routine care for their children."

BMC Medicine is published by BioMed Central. The full text of the study is available at www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/2/25