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Northwest Indiana Paper: Doctors Underreport Child Abuse

In 2008, a Lowell, Indiana, boy was hospitalized for suspicious injuries – and his doctor noted in his medical files that the child was possibly or probably injured due to abuse. However, the doctor did not go to the authorities about his concerns about the one-and-a-half-year-old Anthony Mogan. Three months after the doctor wondered whether the child was being abused, Mogan was killed by blunt force trauma by a family member.

Unfortunately, tragic cases like these are surprisingly common in Indiana. In fact, a new study conducted by Dr. Emalee Flaherty and others at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Children's Memorial Hospital shows that a shocking 27 percent of doctors and other health professionals do not report their concerns of child abuse even when they have suspicious about injuries.

The reason for not reporting child abuse to Indiana Police or the Indiana Department of Child Services? Some say that they do not want to break up a family. Some say they do not want to become involved in a legal investigation. And some say they simply don’t think the abuse will stop even if it is reported.

For doctors, reporting or not reporting suspected child abuse can end in an Indiana medical malpractice case. In some instances, a family wrongly accused of child abuse can claim that the doctor who reported abuse unnecessarily tore their family apart. In other cases, a doctor who fails to report obvious child abuse could be sued for medical negligence if the child is later seriously injured or killed during later abuse.

Indiana has a law that requires all health care providers to report suspicion of child abuse in their patients – but this study has found that doctors either overlook signs of abuse or else intentionally break the law and refuse to engage in child abuse mandatory reporting.

Jim Keller
Partner at Keller & Keller

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