Family Violence and the Evaluation of Behavioral Concerns in a Pediatric Primary Care Clinic


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Abstract

The goals of this study were to determine 1) the prevalence of exposure to intrafamilial violence among children attending a pediatric primary care clinic; 2) the prevalence of psychosocial distress among mothers bringing their children to the clinic; 3) the extent to which pediatricians are aware of family violence and maternal distress among their patients; and 4) whether families reporting violence are more likely to report behavioral or emotional problems with their children. The study focused on 243 mothers and their children who made scheduled visits to an inner-city, hospital-based pediatric residents' continuity clinic. The children ranged in age from 6 months to 14 years, with 69% of the children 2 years of age or younger. Parents answered questions about their own and their child's psychosocial functioning, including a modified version of the Conflict Tactics Scale, an instrument used to measure the prevalence of intrafamilial violence. Physicians independently rated parent and child psychosocial health and the likelihood of violence in the family. Forty percent of mothers said their family in the past year had experienced at least one episode of the five most serious types of violence described on the Conflict Tactics Scale. Mothers reporting these levels of violence were more likely to report psychosocial distress in their own lives as well as those of their children. Furthermore, family violence predicted maternal concern for child behavior even after accounting for the increased maternal distress associated with violence. Physicians had difficulty predicting which mothers would report violence (sensitivity 27%, specificity 81%) or which mothers would report concern about child behavior and emotional health. The authors concluded that an instrument like the Conflict Tactics Scale might both add to physicians' awareness of family violence and help explain some parental concerns about the behavior or emotional health of apparently asymptomatic children.

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