Because of the work that I do and the life that I've lived, I keep up on what's happening in the world where it concerns spousal abuse. Today, Google Alerts sent me an interesting press report that gives two reasons for pediatricians to screen their patients' mothers or caregivers for signs of physical and/or emotional abuse. The report interested me because it cites a study that came up with results I believe to be obvious: This type of screening could help save both the parent/caregiver, and also save their children who may be witness to such abuse and become victims themselves...if they aren't already.
The study was conducted at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, and the results are published online in the Journal of Pediatrics. It claimed nearly 1/4 of the women screened (133) for the study reported abuse, and half of those admitted a child had witnessed the abuse. In my opinion, these numbers are frighteningly high, and probably on the low side. This particular study did not examine the effects of what the children witnessed, but it's already known that these children are more than likely to repeat what they've seen. We see it daily in our public schools, in the courts system, in the newspapers. Children follow the behavior their parents model, and not just at home. That means this is not just a private family matter. This is a societal concern. Screening the parent seems like a good idea. I wish I'd been screened. It could be a way out of an otherwise impossible situation.
And abuse is not that difficult to recognize. The report suggests if a child misses scheduled doctors' appointments, if the parent/caregiver and/or child show signs of depression, if the child exhibits recurring unexplained headaches and stomach aches, then maybe this kind of screening could detect a problem that isn't easy to discuss openly.
Says Megan Bair-Merritt, M.D. M.S.C.E., a Hopkins pediatrician who led the study, "Our findings speak loud and clear. Domestic violence happens often and children witness it, so it should be on every pediatrician's radar." Because of her study, she'd like to see more pediatricians conducting this kind of screening.
So would I.
I realize that might be putting an awful lot of responsibility on these doctors' shoulders, but their job is, afterall, caring for children. This type of screening might be another way they can do that. The study says it takes only a few minutes for a doctor to distribute a simple questionnaire and ask a parent/caregiver to fill it out. Just a few minutes that might save a child.
Then, of course, the question becomes: What happens when the results are in and abuse is acknowledged?
What does the pediatrician do then?
Maybe Johns Hopkins will come up with a study about that.
Meanwhile, if you haven't already done so, be sure to hug your children today. We all deserve it.
All my best,