Why EMS must report and share child abuse suspicions

Intuition is a valuable instinct; when the details don't add up follow procedures to report suspicions of child abuse or neglect


An Associated Press investigation into child abuse has some startling findings. Seven hundred and eighty six children died of abuse or neglect in the United States in a six-year span. For many of those children, some only infants, the agencies and healthcare providers best positioned to protect them from danger failed to do so.

The investigation shares some unthinkable tragedies. Although EMS is not specifically called out in the article, many of us have responded to horrifying stories of abuse or have closely followed tragic stories closer to home. You know you are a mandatory reporter. If you see obvious signs of abuse or clearly hear reports of abuse, you have an obligation to report. Mechanisms are in place for you to report and perhaps you have done so.

Any news report, including this AP investigation, is going to highlight the blatant examples where the system and people failed. EMS is uniquely situated to see  children in their home environment and observe parent/caregiver and child interactions that much more closely. Other healthcare providers rely on our observations of the scene.

What rarely makes the news is an EMT or paramedic that acted on a suspicion or a hunch – the story just didn't seem right, the pieces weren't coming together, or there was an unexplained gap in the timeline. Trust your instincts. If you suspect something, even when there is not compelling supportive evidence, share and report your suspicions following your organization's or state's policy.

Finally, EMS incidents can stick with us. Many EMS providers find calls with ill and injured children to be especially haunting. One of the ways you can let go of or prevent those dark memories is to report any suspicions of abuse or neglect, no matter how trivial. The child needs, and should expect us, to always take action on their behalf.

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