Survey on Reporting of Child Abuse by Pediatricians: Intrapersonal Inconsistencies Influence Reporting Behavior More than Legislation

Oliver Berthold, Vera Clemens, Benjamin H. Levi, Marion Jarczok, Jörg M. Fegert, Andreas Jud

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Internationally, various laws govern reporting of child abuse to child protection services by medical professionals. Whether mandatory reporting laws are in place or not, medical professionals need internal thresholds for suspicion of abuse to even consider a report (“reasonable suspicion” in US law, “gewichtige Anhaltspunkte” in German law). Objective: To compare internal thresholds for suspicion of abuse among US and German pediatricians, i.e., from two countries with and without mandatory reporting laws. Participants and Setting: In Germany, 1581 pediatricians participated in a nationwide survey among child health professionals. In the US, a survey was mailed to all Pennsylvania pediatricians, and 1249 participated. Methods: Both samples were asked how high in their rank order of differential diagnoses child abuse would have to be when confronted with a child’s injuries to qualify for reasonable suspicion/gewichtige Anhaltspunkte (differential diagnosis scale, DDS). In a second step, both had to mark a 10-point likelihood scale (0–100%) corresponding to reasonable suspicion/gewichtige Anhaltspunkte (estimated probability scale, EPS). Results: While for almost two-thirds of German pediatricians (62.4%), child abuse had to be among the top three differential diagnoses for gewichtige Anhaltspunkte, over half of the US respondents (48.1%) had a lower threshold for reasonable suspicion. On the estimated probability scale, over 65% in both samples indicated that the probability of abuse had to exceed 50% for reasonable suspicion/gewichtige Anhaltspunkte. There was great variability between the two countries. Conclusions: There are similar uncertainties in assessing cases of suspected child abuse in different legal systems. There is a need for debates on thresholds among medical professionals in both countries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number15568
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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