Local News

Doctors Have Legal Obligation To Report Cases Of Alleged Child Abuse

Posted March 14, 2003

— Medical professionals are often the first to notice abused children. By law, they are obligated to contact law enforcement.

When Dr. James Busch, of Eastern Carolina Pediatrics, discovers signs of abuse, he said he is quick to speak up.

"The child doesn't have a vote," he said.

Doctors at Wilson Medical Center called police Wednesday afternoon when a 5-month-old boy with two broken legs showed up in the emergency department. Emergency room physician Dr. William Murphy cannot talk about that case, but he says typically when a child is abused, the explanation does not fit the injury.

"If you brought your child in and say, for example, my child fell off the bed and he has a big bruise on his head, we X-ray his head and all of a sudden, there's a skull fracture there. That type of injury is out of proportion to him falling off the bed," he said.

Doctors say if the child is healthy otherwise, such an injury could be reported.

"We never come out and say you've been accused of abusing a child. That's the last thing you want to say because that's not a medical distinction. That's a legal distinction," Murphy said.

"When they [doctors] see something and they see something and they report it as quickly as they did in this case, automatically that helps us get on the investigation faster and most importantly, helps us make sure, along with Social Services, that the child is safe," said Capt. C.C. Smith, of the Wilson Police Department.

Busch said confronting a parent can be awkward, but it has to be done.

"If they are being abused, they're more likely to become abusers as they get older and you don't want that cycle to continue," Busch said.

Wilson police say the 5-month-old boy is in protective custody. Police say the child was injured in his hometown in California because he was brought to Wilson a few days ago. Because the injuries happened there, no one will be charged in North Carolina.

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