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J Paediatr Child Health. 2011 Nov;47(11):771-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1754.2010.01773.x. Epub 2010 Jun 27.

Suspicious childhood injury: formulation of forensic opinion.

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Child Advocacy Service, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.


Child protection paediatricians have a role as forensic experts in the context of suspicious childhood injury. The task of forensic evaluation of suspicious injury is to reach a conclusion to support legal proceedings. For each injury, one of four conclusions should be reached: 1 The injury has been caused by another person and is considered to have been inflicted. 2 The injury is adequately explained by the circumstances of the injury event provided (by the carer or other witnesses). 3 The injury is self-inflicted - has been caused by the child's own behaviour as a result of normal childhood activity (with no other person actively involved). 4 The mechanism or sequence of events leading to the injury remains indeterminate or unclear. An additional consideration is determining the extent to which an injury incident was foreseeable and therefore preventable, to form an opinion on whether lack of care (neglect) is involved. Opinions reflect a body of knowledge in forensic and medical literature of known mechanisms of injury including biomechanical aspects of tissue injury in trauma scenarios. Limitations in using research documenting injury type and prevalence at different developmental stages is discussed and in particular, the application of such research to support a conclusion that the injury must have been inflicted. Emerging recognition of research documenting injuries that overlap with those found in populations of children thought to have been physically assaulted creates some doubt on previous opinions regarding exclusivity of certain findings in children definitively indicating 'abuse'. Forensic paediatricians should remain objective, limit their opinions to what can be confidently stated and exercise caution where reasonable doubt exists and avoid speculation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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