What is Battered Child Syndrome?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2019
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Battered child syndrome is always an unfortunate topic of discussion. Also called child abuse, which tends to be a more inclusive term, it is evidence that injuries sustained by a child are more than could have been sustained by the child alone. This is especially the case when children are not moving around enough to do things like fall out of windows, climb out of cribs, or interact with the physical world in a manner that would create great injury. The syndrome may thus be defined as a constellation, and possibly history, of injuries that probably couldn’t have occurred unless someone else was causing them, and these usually warrant investigation by child protective or other legal authorities.

In medical or other settings, suspected battered child syndrome is usually reported to investigatory agencies that may initiate immediate questioning of caretakers and careful examination of a child. There are several goals in these investigations. They can gather forensic evidence to be used in trial if necessary, they can question caretakers of children to find out people who might likely be responsible for child abuse, and they can determine whether or not the child exhibits enough symptoms of battered child syndrome, to make the claim it is occurring and to warrant steps like taking custody of the child.


Certainly, there are gray areas where children could look like they have battered child syndrome and where they certainly don’t. Some diseases and conditions can cause bones to break easily or bruising to occur on a massive scale, even with very slight injury. These tend to rarely be the case, and in many cases, the number of injuries and their severity do mean a child has been abused. Abuse is not just limited to physical but can also encompass sexual abuse, which may have various unmistakable signs in some kids.

Some of the things investigators look for in trying to identify battered child syndrome are stories that don’t match up between caretakers, and accounts of accidents that are inconsistent with injuries. They may also examine the child's history to see if a high number of accidents and/or trips to doctors and emergency rooms exist in the child’s past. A growing body of evidence may suggest patterns and the practice of routine abuse.

Anyone who has parented and not been abusive to children may have a certain degree of anxiety about this issue. Especially when kids are active, they may injure themselves regularly. Parents often fear that they’ll be investigated for battered child syndrome if their children are covered in bruises from active play and falling or if they hit their heads on something and end up with a black eye or two.

It should be noted that doctors do expect to see a normal amount of injury in children. Mostly, it has to be consistent with what a child can and might do at that age. Falling off a bike is going to cause bruises or skinned knees, and toddlers that can get around quickly may occasionally bump the head or an eye because they lack coordination skills. These same injuries in a baby would be difficult to explain and be more likely to suggest battered child syndrome. Part of the definition of the syndrome is that the developmental status of the child makes injury in certain ways next to impossible.

These things are important to consider when defining any signs or symptoms of battered child syndrome. There are unfortunately many of them, and some may be consistent with normal childhood injuries. Others are clearly not, and represent an unfortunate statement about the continued problem of child abuse. Those who might suspect this condition could be told to look for burns, marks from whips or restraining devices, bites, broken bones, unusual and excessive bruising, evidence of finger pressure on parts of the body like around the neck, concussion, and coma or death. Other evidence of child abuse includes clear signs of sexual abuse.

While it may be upsetting to read such lists, having diagnostics for battered child syndrome is an important place to start. When children are being abused, the only way to potentially free them from this is by identifying abuse. If child abuse is suspected, various agencies may then be able to investigate and hopefully aid the child.



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