The Effect of Socioeconomic Status and Parental Demographics on Activation of Department of Child and Family Services in Pediatric Burn Injury

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Burns resulting from child maltreatment are tragic causes of significant morbidity and mortality, most commonly affecting children under 3 years of age. More than one third of nonaccidental burns occur in single-parent homes or have parents with history of mental illness, substance abuse, incarceration, or Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) involvement. The authors sought to profile pediatric burn injuries associated with DCFS investigations. They performed a retrospective chart review of pediatric burn patients, admitted between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2014. They analyzed patient and household demographics, family composition, employment, zip code, insurance, etiology, percent TBSA burned, surgical interventions, length of hospital stay, disposition, prior DCFS involvement, and DCFS investigation outcomes. There were 126 DCFS investigations involving patients with average age of 2.6 ± 3.2 years and 5 ± 5.6% TBSA burn. Scalds were the most prevalent etiology at 76%. Parents involved with DCFS were 5 years younger than those without DCFS. Factors associated with increased odds of DCFS investigation were non-Caucasian race, single-parent homes, unemployed primary caretaker, Medicaid utilization, and prior DCFS involvement. A majority of DCFS investigations were initiated at outside hospitals, and they found one third to be substantiated cases of abuse. Non-Caucasian children, under 3 years of age, from lower socioeconomic or single-parent homes, are associated with higher rates of DCFS investigations. The majority of DCFS investigations were unsubstantiated and there were no significant epidemiological differences between unsubstantiated and substantiated cases of abuse. Improved understanding of sociodemographic risk factors for children at higher risk for negligence or intentional abuse warrants focused public health programs on regional prevention and education.

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