LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - With Kentucky and Indiana ranked high nationally when it comes increasing cases of child abuse, the University of Louisville is working on research that could truly save children's lives.
The findings were just published in the Journal of Pediatrics with the goal of helping emergency room doctors determine whether a child's injury came by abuse or by accident.
"Every year here in Louisville, several hundred kids are physically abused," Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad said.
Conrad spoke directly to a group rallying to report to report child abuse near the Big Four Bridge on Wednesday.
On the heels of that rally, citing 19 deaths and 62 near deaths in Kentucky alone in 2016, researchers at the University of Louisville are trying to give doctors a tool to back up their experience and gut instinct.
"A lot of times it's [doctor's gut instinct] right but we just want to make sure the evidence is in place," leading researcher Doug Lorenz, a UofL Associate Professor in the School of Public Health, said.
Because getting a confession or witness to abuse is hard to come by, the research gives doctors another way to be confident in a decision not to send a child back into what may be an abusive home. This study is part of a larger project investigating child abuse.
The first task of researchers was to find a definitive classification for abuse. They looked at more than 2,000 cases regarding injuries of children under 4 years old who visited five children's hospital emergency departments from 2011 to 2016.
"All the children included in the study had at least one bruise on their body," Lorenz said.
An expert panel of doctors looked at all information on current and prior hospital visits along with location and number of bruises. Nine panelists with specific backgrounds in identifying abuse graded cases from levels of 1-5; The scale was from definite or likely abuse, indeterminate, to definite or likely accident.
The panelists also answered if they would or wouldn't call Child Protective Services for the case.
At least two panelists reviewed each of the 2,166 cases. 852 cases had unanimous agreement.
Lorenz said besides the ultimate goal of saving a life, the research could also help in prosecutions.
"In a court case, if a physician is asked 'why did you call Child Protective Services,' rather than having them say 'based on my experience in the past, this is why I did it,' now they can also point to evidence-based studies like ours," Lorenz said.
The bigger research project that includes psychological and social aspects of abuse includes research performed in Louisville, Cincinnati, Chicago and San Diego.
UofL got involved after a Louisville researcher secured a large gr ant from the National Institutes of Health.