Child abuse in the state is sharply increasing. In fact, the number of reported cases has risen more than 30 percent since 2006, according to Prevent Child Abuse Indiana (PCAIN).
State law defines child abuse as occurring when “the child’s physical or mental health is seriously endangered due to injury by the act or omission of the child’s parent, guardian or custodian”. In other words, abuse is the non-accidental infliction of physical or emotional injury on a child.
The law requires everyone–including physicians, nurses, teachers, grandparents or neighbors–who suspects child abuse to report it either to the police or the local Child Protective Services office at their toll-free number, (800) 800-5556. Failure to do so is a Class B misdemeanor–a penalty resulting in a jail term of up to 180 days and a fine of up to $1,000.
Health care providers also can be found liable for medical malpractice. In 2008, a jury awarded $400,000 against an Indiana hospital in a child abuse case.
Reports may be made anonymously and are kept confidential. Also, anyone reporting suspected child abuse is protected from any civil or criminal liability as they are assumed to be acting in good faith.
Report should be specific
PCAIN suggests providing authorities with the following information when reporting suspected child abuse:
- Exact name, address and telephone number of the parent, guardian or custodian
- Age of the child
- Exact description of what you saw or what the child said to you
- A log or history of behaviors that have concerned you
“The more specific your information and the more details you provide, the easier it is to assess the situation,” advised Rhonda Sharp, M.D., chair of the ISMA Family Violence Committee. “Also, solid documentation in any abuse case not only helps the patient in the court room, but also may legally protect us as physicians.”
The Indiana Department of Child Services provides a form (310) to help you document alleged child abuse and neglect. You can use it to report cases to the local department of child services. Find it on in.gov.
Antoinette Laskey, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at IU School of Medicine, suggested you look for these red flags:
- Head trauma in children under 4 years old
- Sexual abuse, even if the exams are normal
- Bruises on babies less than 36 months old
- Tap water burns, the most common form of abuse in the U.S.
- Occult fractures
“If a child is in your facility and you are concerned they were injured at the hands of a caregiver, do not release the patient without first talking to child protective services,” Dr. Laskey advised.
For information about diagnosing child abuse, go to the AAP website. Find additional resources here.