We carried out a case–control study in children with acute hematogenous osteomyelitis (AHO) with and without suppurative complications discharged from our institution over an 11-year period to test the hypothesis that abscess formation was associated with a delayed presentation to care. Of 102 children with AHO, 54 abscesses were documented in 46 patients (25 bone, 29 muscle). A delay in presentation was not associated with abscess formation (6.5 vs. 5.0 days, P=0.26). Overall, 78% of all bone abscesses were visible on initial MRI. Consistent use of MRI at presentation may identify children with suppurative complications of AHO.