Providing medical evaluations for possible child maltreatment to children with special health care needs.

Objective: Children with special health care needs are known to be at increased risk of all forms of child maltreatment when compared to children without such needs. We describe a health care team’s experience providing medical evaluations for suspected child maltreatment to children with special health care needs.

Methods: Consecutive cases seen as outpatients in the Abuse Referral Clinic for Children with Disabilities were abstracted and analyzed. Mail and telephone follow-up contact was attempted after the medical evaluation to determine adherence with treatment recommendations. A subsample of cases for which complete financial information was available was reviewed to determine a reimbursement rate.

Results: During the study, 49 children received complete outpatient evaluations. Ages ranged from 3 to 16 years old, and 54% were males. Special needs spanned a wide range of physical, developmental/cognitive and behavioral conditions. The largest number of referrals came from child protective services (42%) followed by referrals from physicians (27%). After the team’s comprehensive evaluation, 18% of the children were found to have a history or physical examination that was diagnostic for child maltreatment, 13% were thought to be at high risk, 25% were thought to be at low risk and 44% were thought to have non-abusive etiologies. The collection rate was 14% for an average reimbursement of $38 per case. Only 29 caregivers could be found at follow-up and 22 remembered the recommendations made by the team. Of the 25 cases that were referred for outpatient mental health counseling, 12 (48%) complied.

Conclusion: Children with a wide range of special health care needs were evaluated in an outpatient special health care needs clinic that offered comprehensive medical evaluations for possible child maltreatment. Medical evaluation services for this group of children were poorly reimbursed. Mental health services were frequently recommended but often not accessed. Child maltreatment teams seeking to serve children with special health care needs will need to plan for service delivery to a potentially diverse group of children and families who may experience difficulty in carrying through on the team’s treatment recommendations.