Pediatricians & Adolescent Patients Experiencing Relationship Abuse

Pediatricians play an important role in the lives of their patients. They inform children of their height, teach them about healthy eating, make sure they’re ready to compete in athletics or attend school, and in some instances are the first adult to speak with them about a romantic relationship. Nationwide, 1 in 3 teens reports being physically, sexually or emotionally hurt by their partner. According to the CT Department of Public Health, 17% of CT high school students report being emotionally abused by a dating partner and 8% report being physically abused by a dating partner (2011 School Health Survey Youth Risk Behavior Report). And early exposure to abusive or violent relationships increases the likelihood of those types of relationships being repeated later in life.[1]

It can be challenging for a pediatrician to view a patient, who they may have examined since infancy, as an adolescent engaged in an intimate relationship, but children as young as 12 are “dating”. Teen victims of relationship abuse are more likely to report unhealthy diet behaviors, engage in substance abuse, and report having suicidal thoughts. Given these sobering facts, adolescent relationship abuse is a major health concern facing teens today, and health care providers have a unique role to play in preventing it. Not only can they provide valuable prevention messages to help their patients build healthy relationships, but medical professionals are also uniquely positioned to help those exposed to abuse find the resources they need.[2]

Pediatricians don’t have to screen an adolescent for intimate partner violence in the same manner they would an adult patient. Futures Without Violence, home to the National Health Resource Center on Domestic Violence, offers important information and resources in their Hanging Out or Hooking Up: Clinical Guidelines on Responding to Adolescent Relationship Abuse. The Adolescent Relationship Abuse Clinical Guidelines Include:

  • Definitions, prevalence, and dimensions of Adolescent Relationship Abuse (ARA)
  • An overview of confidentiality and reporting issues and patient-centered reporting
  • Clinical strategies to promote universal education about healthy relationships
  • Clinical strategies to provide direct assessment and harm reduction strategies for reproductive coercion and ARA
  • An overview of preparing your practice to address ARA
  • Keys for success, including developing relationships with local domestic violence advocates and community programs[3]

Futures Without Violence also offers a safety card and poster, all free to download. Healthcare providers are in a unique position to support their young patients before or during an intimate relationship. For questions or information, please contact Jillian Gilchrest, Director of Health Professional Outreach at the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

[1] Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ctcadv.org)
[2] Futures Without Violence (futureswithoutviolence.org)
[3] Futures Without Violence (futureswithoutviolence.org)