Professional physicians, like Matthew Steiner MD, are responsible for keeping your patients healthy. While this primarily involves the treatment of disease, this also includes operating as a mandated reporter. As a new medical professional, in the event you come in contact with a patient that is displaying physical, emotional or psychological signs of neglect or abuse, it is your responsibility to report this information to the necessary authorities. This is especially the case when it comes to instances of child abuse or neglect. It's important you understand what this means and how to approach this type of situation.
What Exactly Is Child Abuse?
A fairly common misconception concerning child abuse or neglect is that it only comes in extreme forms, such as a child being physically assaulted. Child abuse is considered any intentional action, or threat of an action, that results in the harm of a child in any manner, including physical, emotional or psychological. In fact, a parent that simply fails to provide a healthy, loving and stable environment for a child can also be considered a form of neglect.
Within the professional realm, your responsibility to serve as a mandated reporter is often referred to as medicolegal reporting. When it comes to medicolegal reporting, given the potentially extreme outcome of reporting a parent or caregiver, it's imperative that you be particularly careful when making an assessment. In terms of physical abuse, one of the first things to look for are injuries that are inconsistent with the information provided by the caregiver or parent or a history of unexplained physical injuries.
In terms of emotional abuse, signs are not as obvious. Children who are suffering from this form of neglect may be developmentally behind, isolate themselves or show signs of fear. If your assessment of the parent's actions towards the child or questioning of the child leads you to believe this type of mistreatment is taking place, there are diagnostic tools that can help you better assess the situation.
Speaking With Parents
Aside from diagnosing abuse in a child, informing a parent that you are reporting the issue can be even more challenging. Upon notifying the parent, you can expect a plethora of emotions from sadness to anger or even rage. One of the most important things for you to do is avoid an accusatory tone. Explain the situation to the parent from a supportive and sympathetic standpoint for the best outcome. Express to the parent that your first and foremost responsibility is to protect the well-being of the child.
While a difficult task, your commitment to reporting abuse and neglect can help keep your patients safer and healthier, which is after all, your main priority.