Investigators should have a working knowledge of battered child syndrome and what it means to an investigation. Battered child syndrome is defined as the collection of injuries sustained by a child as a result of repeated mistreatment or beating. If a child’s injuries indicate intentional trauma or appear to be more severe than could reasonably be expected to result from an accident, battered child syndrome should be suspected. In such cases, an investigator must do more than collect information about the currently reported injury. A full investigation requires interviewing possible witnesses about other injuries that the child may have suffered, obtaining the caretakers’ explanation for those injuries, and assessing the conclusions of medical personnel who may have seen the victim before.

The issue of whether information on the victim’s prior injuries or medical conditions will be admissible at a trial should be left to the prosecutor. However, an investigator’s failure to collect such information leaves the prosecutor without one of the most important pieces of corroborative evidence for proving an intentional act of child abuse. Evidence of past inflicted injuries also may be the only information available to help the prosecutor distinguish between two or more possible perpetrators in the current case, and may help refute claims by the child’s parents or caretakers that injuries suggestive of physical abuse were caused by an accident.