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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.

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1 and EMS1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on Twitter or LinkedIn and submit an article idea or ask questions with this form.

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