In this section
These clinical practice guidelines provide advice to assist decision-making in clinical situations when child abuse and neglect are considered. They do not serve to replace health services' procedural guidelines or restrict discretion and good judgement in complex situations.
Clinical Practice Guidelines for child abuse and neglect, vulnerable children and "at risk children" are considered within 4 categories, recognising that differing forms of child abuse often co-exist.
Medical practitioners are encouraged to seek advice from the Victorian Forensic Paediatric Medical Service (VFPMS), senior medical staff and to always operate within jurisdictional legislative requirements.
Children who attend with an injury that might have been inflicted need a full assessment of their physical condition and psychosocial situation.
The priorities in dealing with child physical abuse are to:
Victorian Forensic Paediatric Medical Service
(24 hours 7 days a week)
Assessment of a child's psychosocial situation may be conducted as a multidisciplinary assessment by professionals within the health service, including social workers and mental health professionals, working in partnership with Child Protection, police and community-based professionals.
Admission to hospital should be arranged when it is medically necessary (head injury, fractures, failure to thrive etc) or when it is necessary for the child's safety.
A low threshold for admission is appropriate when dealing with an injured child.
Consider NAI in any infant who presents with an unexplained encephalopathy. Any infant with a cerebral injury, from shaking or direct trauma, should be admitted to ICU for monitoring overnight. Delayed deterioration may occur. (At RCH - ICU admission should only be declined following assessment by the ICU consultant).
The safe discharge of the child is the responsibility both of the hospital and Child Protection.
SCAN (Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect) multi-disciplinary professionals' meetings
All admitted patients should be the subject of a SCAN meeting held within 24 hours of admission.The SCAN protocol is designed to help coordinate early discussions with Paediatric medical staff, Victorian Forensic Paediatric Medical Service, Child Protection and police.
See SCAN meeting resources.
First line investigation of bruising
Extended clotting profile
Forensic investigation of suspected intra-abdominal trauma
Forensic investigation of suspicious fractures
Radiograph (x-ray) sites of clinically suspected fracture(s).
Bone scan and skeletal survey (both together) are recommended in children <3 years of age, to search for occult fractures.
Note: a bone scan is not a sensitive tool for the detection of skull fractures; if suspected, obtain a skull radiograph or CT scan in addition. Note that the dose of irradiation must be weighed against the need to determine whether a skull fracture exists.
In children > 3 years, bone scans are used only if occult or healing fractures are suspected. Note that bone scan is unlikely to detect an occult fracture that occurred more than 12 months previously.
First line tests
Second line tests
Also consider genetic tests for OI.
If suspicions exist about intentional thermal injury such as scalds and contact burns in children aged < 3 years, then skeletal survey, bone scan and additional investigations for other forms of child abuse should be considered.
Toxicology tests might be considered when ingestion or poisoning is possible as a result of care-giver neglect or intentional exposure/ ingestion. Also consider toxicology tests in children with unexplained altered conscious state, head injury, thermal injury and sexual assault.
Forensic toxicology laboratories and hospital biochemistry laboratories differ significantly in the analytical techniques used for drug detection and in the way that results are reported. Send samples to the laboratory that can perform the required tests.
All children about whom there are suspicions of sexual abuse should be discussed with the VFPMS in the first instance. This will facilitate exclusion of the diagnosis of sexual assault in children who have not been sexually assaulted but who have conditions such as genital symptoms that are sometimes confused with sexual assault. This will reduce angst and suffering in children and their caregivers when there is an unreasonable suspicion of sexual assault.
In general, genital examinations for forensic purposes will only be performed by appropriately trained and experienced consultants.
The priorities in dealing with child sexual abuse are to:
After consultation with the VFPMS, when an urgent forensic examination by VFPMS is deemed to be unnecessary, limited inspection for a specific purpose such as determination of the amount of bleeding or the extent of a rash or discharge may be performed with the cooperation of the child.
After a recent sexual assault (< 72 hours) rapid evaluation is required. Contact the VFPMS, and speak to the consultant on-call. Collection of forensic evidence is an important consideration. You may be advised to assess and treat any urgent medical problems (eg. bleeding), being careful to collect any clothing that is removed in the process. Ensure the child is as comfortable as possible and has appropriate emotional support. Await the on-call VFPMS consultant who will perform the forensic examination as a joint response with the CASA counsellor.
STI prophylaxis : Azithromycin 1 g stat
Pregnancy prophylaxis: Postinor (post coital contraception) within 72 h of sexual contact. Arrange for a follow-up pregnancy test
HIV prophylaxis: NPEP (according to ASHM post exposure prophylaxis guidelines)
Post sexual assault sexually transmissible infection screen
At time of examination (optional)
Baseline tests (2weeks post assault)
At 3 months blood serology
At 6 months blood serology
The evaluation of child neglect is a complex process that should involve assessment of the child's physical health, growth, development, behaviour, safety, emotional / psychological wellbeing and relationships.
Evaluation of child neglect should be mindful of the cumulative harms that occur when a child has been neglected over significant periods of time, particularly when neglect may have occurred at critical periods of the child's development.
Evaluation of child neglect should assess the scope and extent of child neglect, the child's current needs and the caregivers' capacity to meet their child's needs.
The priorities in dealing with child neglect are to:
In situations of suspected neglect a multidisciplinary assessment should be performed using information gathered from a number of sources that include community-based health and welfare professionals, Child Protection and police. Social workers and/ or mental health professionals should contribute to the assessment of children's psychosocial situations, safety and parental capacity to meet children's needs.
A report to Child Protection should occur when the child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm and the parents have failed to protect or are unlikely to protect the child from such harm.
A referral to Child FIRST should occur when there are significant concerns about a child's wellbeing.
The priorities in dealing with a vulnerable child are to:
After a multi-disciplinary assessment, when significant concerns exist about a child's wellbeing, referral to Child FIRST should occur.
All medical staff working in the Emergency Department & Wards must be aware of the possibility of child abuse, and be able and prepared to act appropriately if it is suspected.
Medical and Nursing staff are mandated reporters who must notify Child Protection after forming a belief, on reasonable grounds, that a child has been, or is likely to be, physically or sexually abused and the parents have not protected, or are unlikely to protect, the child from such harm. There is an obligation upon all hospital staff to notify Child Protection if they have formed a belief that a child is in need of protection. See Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 - SECT 162
For Victorian Health Professionals:
The Victorian Forensic Paediatric Medical Service is available 24/7 for forensic medical advice and consultation.
As well as regular clinics each Monday to Friday, the VFPMS provides a 24 hour service for evaluation of possible causes of injury and advice for professionals regarding evaluation of suspected child abuse. They can also advise on good medical report writing, provide peer review of medico-legal reports and can liaise with the external agencies.
The Victorian Forensic Paediatric Medical Service is situated at RCH and MMC
Refer to Department of Social Work for psychosocial assessment when there are concerns about risk of harm to a child.
Refer children and their family members for counselling to a Centre Against Sexual Assault when an allegation of sexual abuse has been made.
(Suspected Child Abuse or Neglect)
Recording of decisions made at SCAN meetings.