Screening Children for Abuse and Neglect: A Review of the Literature

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Child abuse and neglect occur in epidemic numbers in the United States and around the world, resulting in major physical and mental health consequences for abused children in the present and future. A vast amount of information is available on the signs and symptoms and short- and long-term consequences of abuse. A limited number of instruments have been empirically developed to screen for child abuse, with most focused on physical abuse in the context of the emergency department, which have been found to be minimally effective and lacking rigor. This literature review focuses on physical, sexual, and psychological abuse and neglect, occurring in one or multiple forms (polyabuse). A systematic, in-depth analysis of the literature was conducted. This literature review provides information for identifying children who have been abused and neglected but exposes the need for a comprehensive screening instrument or protocol that will capture all forms of child abuse and neglect. Screening needs to be succinct, user-friendly, and amenable for use with children at every point of care in the healthcare system.