Screening Children

Read Ethics and Privacy. It is recommended to look at the overall picture from multiple sources, and not make a conclusion from a single piece of information. Initially interview parent and child together, but if abuse is suspected, ask parent permission to interview child separately. If parent refuses, this is a red flag and document.

Asking parents

  • Do you feel that your child is safe at school (or at daycare, or at the babysitter's)?
  • Is your child behaving differently lately in a way that concerns you?
  • Have you noticed, or has your child complained about, any new physical symptoms lately?

Pre-verbal/pre-school children

Note clues in Signs & Symptoms as well as how children act during play or what they draw.  Are they physically abusive of dolls or materials?  Do dolls hurt each other, or play sexually? What is the interaction between parent and child?

Verbal children - asking questions

Avoid asking leading questions.  If sexual abuse is suspected, leave detailed questions for professional interviewers.  It is best to have a general conversation where the child discloses spontaneously, and note the child’s voice changes, eye contact, breathing patterns and change of subject when describing situations or people.  Limit your questions to only what is necessary for you to feel there is reasonable suspicion to make a report, so that the child isn’t put through multiple extensive interviews.
  • To assess neglect, ask child to describe a typical day – what they eat, who makes the food, where do they play, who comes to or leaves the house and when, do they have electricity, etc.
  • Does any place on your body hurt?
  • What happens when you do something your parents don’t like?
  • What happens at your house (or daycare) when people get angry?
  • Do people ever hit?  Who do they hit?  What do they hit with? How often does it happen? Is it scary?
  • Are you afraid of anyone?
  • What happens when you take a bath?
  • Where do you sleep?  What happens when you go to sleep?
  • Has anyone touched you in a way you didn’t like?

Verbal children – discussing domestic abuse

Children may have a variety of responses toward domestic abuse, such as fear, guilt, anger, sadness, or helplessness. They may escape through fantasy, talk to stuffed animals, hide, become hyper vigilant, etc.
  • What are your worries about the fighting at home?
  • What do you do when the fighting happens?
  • I am concerned about the safety of people in your home, and I am glad your mother (you) told me about this.
  • What is going on in your house is not your fault.
  • It is not your job to stop the fighting.  Where can you be safe in your house?  Do you know how to call 911? (age appropriate)
  • You are not responsible for solving these problems.  I am going to work with your mother (father, etc.) to try to make things better.
[Adapted from California Child Abuse & Neglect Reporting Law: Issues and Answers for Mandated Reporters, and Identifying and Responding to Domestic Violence: Consensus Recommendations for Child and Adolescent Health - see resources]