Child welfare professionals’ determination of when children’s access or potential access to loaded firearms constitutes child neglect

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Abstract

BACKGROUND

Pediatric deaths and injuries from access to firearms are a significant public health problem. No studies have examined how experts determine child neglect regarding firearm access in the home. Our study objectives were to identify factors that influenced pediatric experts’ finding of firearm-related child neglect and to assess their attitudes toward child access prevention (CAP) laws.

METHODS

A survey was distributed to the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Child Abuse and Neglect members. Demographics, attitudes regarding CAP laws, and ages (up to 14 years old) at which experts deemed several scenarios as child neglect were determined. Scenarios tested potential versus actual loaded firearm access, presence or absence of a CAP law, and injury versus no injury when the firearm was accessed.

RESULTS

One hundred ninety-three surveys were completed. Experts agreed (>95%) that CAP laws were important, even for children up to age 15 years. Although a high percentage considered potential access to a loaded firearm as child neglect, a CAP law significantly increased the percentage for each age. In addition, higher percentages of respondents from states with CAP laws than those without deemed potential access as child neglect for 12- and 14-year-olds. In contrast, if the child had accessed a loaded firearm, there were no significant differences in the high percentages that deemed the scenario as child neglect under any conditions, including with and without a CAP law.

CONCLUSIONS

Although almost all child neglect experts considered potential and actual access to loaded firearms as child neglect, CAP laws increased the percentage for cases of potential access. Universal CAP laws may help ensure that determinations of child neglect are more consistent across states. The deterrent effect of potential child neglect findings may increase the number of parents securing firearms in ways that prevent child access and reduce firearm-related deaths and injuries.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE

Epidemiologic study, level III.

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