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Open Access Research article

Clinic-based screening for domestic violence: use of a child safety questionnaire

Richard A Wahl*, Doris J Sisk and Thomas M Ball

Author Affiliations

University of Arizona, Department of Pediatrics, 1501 N. Campbell Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85724-5073 USA

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BMC Medicine 2004, 2:25  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-2-25

Published: 30 June 2004

Abstract

Background

Domestic violence affects many women during their lifetime. Children living in homes where they are or have been exposed to violence are at increased risk for adverse outcomes. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Practice, and the American College of Obstetrics/Gynecology have recently joined in recommending routine screening of all families for the presence of domestic violence. We present our experience with an office-based domestic violence screening questionnaire.

Methods

A series of four child safety questionnaires (designed for parents of infant, preschool-age, school-age, and adolescent patients), which included specific questions about domestic violence, was given to all mothers presenting to a university out-patient general pediatric clinic. The questionnaires, offered in both English and Spanish, were reviewed for the presence of domestic violence exposure, usually at the time of the clinic visit. The number of women who reported either current or past exposure to domestic violence as disclosed by this active screening process was compared to the number discovered prior to the use of these questionnaires.

Results

Prior to the use of active screening with a child safety questionnaire, five cases of domestic violence were identified in our clinic population of approximately 5000 children over a 3 month period. Active screening of this population with a parent questionnaire resulted in the identification of 69 cases of current domestic violence exposure (2% of those screened) during each of 2 years of screening. Use of the child safety questionnaire was associated with a significantly increased odds of detecting current domestic violence (OR = 3.6, 95% CI [1.4, 9.1], P = 0.007), with 72% [26–84%] of the cases identified being attributable to the use of the questionnaire. Of children screened, 2% were currently exposed to domestic violence, and 13% had been exposed to past domestic violence. Thus a total of 15% of our patient population has been exposed to domestic violence in their homes.

Conclusion

Children in our clinic population are frequently exposed to domestic violence. Active screening for the presence of current or past domestic violence through the use of a parent questionnaire resulted in a significant increase in our ability to identify such families and provide appropriate referral information.