Book chapter offers recommendations for child abuse screening during perinatal care

Published December 28, 2023


Mickey Sperlich

Elizabeth Bowen.

A University at Buffalo School of Social Work faculty member and alumna have co-authored a chapter in the new book, Perinatal Care and Considerations for Survivors of Child Abuse.

Associate Professor Mickey Sperlich, PhD, collaborated with Whitney Mendel, MSW ’02, PhD ’15, outreach and engagement manager at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, on the project.

In the chapter, titled “Screening for Child Abuse and Trauma During the Perinatal Period,” the authors offer tools and recommendations to help providers effectively screen for child abuse and identify trauma survivors who may benefit from interventions during perinatal care.


Given established links between child abuse and adverse perinatal effects, many professional organizations recommend screening. Screening provides opportunities to identify survivors who may benefit from interventions and tailor care that minimizes eliciting trauma triggers and prevents retraumatization.

However, there are both client- and provider-level barriers to screening. Conditions that foster disclosures include the application of provider trauma sensitivity and use of culturally congruent screening tools. Screening should be regarded as part of a continuum of trauma responsivity that includes training, preparation, screening, offering referrals and interventions, and evaluating care.

Several tools are available to screen for child abuse and other trauma and their sequelae. Basic recommendations across screening contexts include careful preparation and education on the part of the provider, identifying optimal procedures for implementation, establishing good rapport, identifying any provider self-triggers and establishing workplace support, including reflective supervision, developing normalizing preamble language prior to screening, connecting past trauma to the present, addressing confidentiality, being an active listener, validating, empathizing and showing support, “right-sizing” provider response, and making appropriate referrals.

Finally, perinatal screening for child abuse must proceed in tandem with the creation, evaluation and availability of trauma-specific interventions. Why we screen is clear; how to screen bears elucidation.

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This research contributes to one of the Grand Challenges for Social Work tackling our nation's toughest social problems: Ensure healthy development for youth.