A fractured skull. Broken ribs. Bleeding in the brain. The injuries suffered by abused children can be devastating.
The youngest and smallest are especially vulnerable. Too small to defend themselves, too young to speak up for themselves, they depend on physicians, among many others in the community, to be their voice and serve as their protectors.
The weight of determining whether a child’s injuries are accidental or inflicted falls on the shoulders of dedicated pediatricians across the country, often working with multidisciplinary teams of physicians and other professionals. It’s a gut-wrenching responsibility. Much is at stake — for parents, families and, especially, children.
The subspecialty of child abuse pediatricians was established a decade ago. These pediatricians have special training and expertise in identifying, diagnosing and treating injuries. They work diligently to understand whether those injuries are the result of abuse or an accident or disease. Evidence-based research and policies guide these pediatricians in this life-saving work.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently updated its policy on abusive head trauma, once referred to as shaken baby syndrome, to incorporate a growing body of science on how to diagnose this type of abuse — and when to rule it out.
However, diagnosing abusive head trauma places child abuse pediatricians in the crosshairs of defense attorneys who have increasingly pushed pseudo-scientific theories that have no basis in medical research. Medical science, itself, is now on trial.