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Assessment of caregiver responsibility in unintentional child injury deaths: challenges for injury prevention
  1. Patricia G Schnitzer1,
  2. Theresa M Covington2,3,
  3. Robin L Kruse4
  1. 1Sinclair School of Nursing, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri, USA
  2. 2National Center for Child Death Review, Washington, DC, USA
  3. 3Michigan Public Health Institute, Okemos, Michigan, USA
  4. 4Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri, USA
  1. Correspondence to Patricia G Schnitzer, University of Missouri, S331, Sinclair School of Nursing, Columbia, MO 65211, USA; schnitzerp{at}


Most unintentional injury deaths among young children result from inadequate supervision or failure by caregivers to protect the child from potential hazards. Determining whether inadequate supervision or failure to protect could be classified as child neglect is a component of child death review (CDR) in most states. However, establishing that an unintentional injury death was neglect related can be challenging as differing definitions, lack of standards regarding supervision, and changing norms make consensus difficult. The purpose of this study was to assess CDR team members' categorisation of the extent to which unintentional injury deaths were neglect related. CDR team members were surveyed and asked to classify 20 vignettes—presented in 10 pairs—that described the circumstances of unintentional injury deaths among children. Vignette pairs differed by an attribute that might affect classification, such as poverty or intent. Categories for classifying vignettes were: (1) caregiver not responsible/not neglect related; (2) some caregiver responsibility/somewhat neglect related; (3) caregiver responsible /definitely neglect related. CDR team members from five states (287) completed surveys. Respondents assigned the child's caregiver at least some responsibility for the death in 18 vignettes (90%). A majority of respondents classified the caregiver as definitely responsible for the child's death in eight vignettes (40%). This study documents attributes that influence CDR team members' decisions when assessing caregiver responsibility in unintentional injury deaths, including supervision, intent, failure to use safety devices, and a pattern of previous neglectful behaviour. The findings offer insight for incorporating injury prevention into CDR more effectively.

  • Unintentional injury death
  • child death review
  • child neglect
  • child
  • public health

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.