5.3 A Multi-agency Protocol for the Management of Actual or Suspected bruising in Infants who are Not Independently Mobile

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The aim of this protocol is to provide all professionals with a knowledge base and action strategy for the assessment, management and referral of infants who are Not Independently Mobile (NIM) who present with bruising.

All practitioners should refer to the Procedures for Specific Circumstances for the process to follow if there are concerns for the safety and welfare of a child.


Relevant to all practitioners and professionals working in the Surrey area whose role brings them into contact with children and families.



1. Definitions

For the Purpose of this Protocol

Not Independently Mobile (NIM): is an infant who is not yet crawling, bottom shuffling, or cruising. It includes all infants under 6 months.

Bruising is defined as: Extravasations of blood in the soft tissues, producing a temporary, non- blanching discolouration of skin however faint or small with or without other skin abrasions or marks. Colouring may vary from yellow through green to brown or purple or red. This includes petechiae, which are red or purple non-blanching spots, less than two millimetres in diameter and often in clusters. 


Bruising is the commonest presenting feature of physical abuse in children. Recent serious case reviews, partnership reviews and individual child protection cases both nationally and locally have shown that frontline practitioners have sometimes underestimated or ignored the highly predictive value, for child abuse, of the presence of bruising in infants who are Not Independently Mobile. As a result there have been a number of cases where bruised infants have suffered significant harm or have died as a result of abuse that might have been prevented if action had been taken at an earlier stage.

NICE guideline When to Suspect Child Maltreatment (Clinical Guideline 89, July 2009) states that bruising in any child Not Independently Mobile should prompt suspicion of maltreatment.

This Multi-agency protocol has been developed for all professionals, outlining the following:

  • Assessment and management of bruising in infants who are Not Independently Mobile;
  • The process by which such infants should be referred to Children’s Services;
  • How to refer to Paediatrician for further assessment and investigation of potential child abuse.

In the light of the NICE guideline, recurrent themes in Serious Case Reviews and the research base outlined in section 3.1 this protocol is necessarily directive. While it recognises that professional judgement and responsibility have to be exercised at all times, it errs on the side of safety by requiring that all infants with bruising who are Not Independently Mobile must be referred in to Children's Services and for a Paediatric opinion.

This protocol has been approved by SSCP Policy & Procedures group following consultation with partners.


2. Research Base

There is a substantial and well-founded research base on the significance of bruising in children. See the Core Info website and also a national repository of Serious Case Reviews at NSPCC serious-case-reviews which provides a national picture of concerns.

While accidental and innocent bruising is significantly more common in older mobile children, professionals are reminded that mobile children who are abused may also present with bruising (Baby P 2008). Body maps to record bruising should be completed in all cases where there are concerns about non accidental injury. This is to address the potential for inaccurate recording when there are multiple bruises / patterns of bruising over time, as identified in both national and local Serious Case Reviews.

Disabled children have a higher incidence of abuse whether mobile or not and concerns relating to potential abuse must be handled in accordance with SSCP Procedures.

The Research base demonstrates that bruising in Not Independently Mobile infants is very rare;particularly those under the age of six months.

While up to 60% of older children who are walking have bruising, it is found in less than 1% of Not Independently Mobile infants, moreover, the pattern, number and distribution of innocent bruising in non-abused children is different to that in those who may have been abused.

Patterns of bruising suggestive of physical child abuse include:

  • Bruising in children who are Not Independently Mobile, particularly those < 6 months of age;
  • Bruises that are away from bony prominences;
  • Bruises to the face, back, abdomen, arms, upper thighs, buttocks, ears and hands;
  • Multiple or clustered bruising;
  • Imprinting and petechiae;
  • Symmetrical bruising.

A bruise whatever its size must never be interpreted in isolation and must always be assessed in the context of medical and social history, developmental stage and explanation given. A full clinical examination and relevant investigations must be undertaken.

The younger the baby the greater is the risk that bruising is non-accidental.

3. Scope of Protocol

This protocol relates only to bruising in infants who are Not Independently Mobile. It includes allinfants under 6 months.

It should be noted that infants may be abused (including sustaining fractures, serious head injuries and intra-abdominal injuries) with no evidence of bruising or external injury.

4. Action to be taken by Individuals and Agencies on Identifying Actual or Suspected Bruising

Referring Practitioner responsibilities:

If the infant appears seriously ill or injured:

  • Seek emergency treatment at an Emergency Department (ED);
  • Notify Children’s Services / Police of your concerns and the child’s location.

A transfer to hospital should not be delayed by a referral to Children's Services, which, if necessary, should be undertaken from the hospital setting. However it is the responsibility of the professional first dealing with the case and who has identified a concern to ensure that a referral to Children's Services has been made.

In all other cases:

When a practitioner observes a bruise in an infant under 6 months of age who is not independently mobile, you must suspect non-accidental injury.

Seek an explanation, examine and record accurately in records and complete body maps  (Appendix 1: Body Maps) note any features of abuse e.g. bruises on face and ‘soft’ areas, bruises in clusters or imprints

Professionals should explain at this stage why, in cases of bruising in infants who are not independently mobile, additional concern, questioning and examination are required. The decision to refer to children’s services should be explained to the parents or carers frankly and honestly. Provide Parental leaflet “Bruising in Infants who are not independently mobile”.

A referral should be made to Children’s Servicies via the Children's Single Point of Access (C-SPA) or Emergency Duty Team (EDT) Contact details). Referrals shoudl nbe made using the Request for Support form which replaces the MARF

The referrer must document in the appropriate personal child health record (where available) and medical records, all decisions and actions taken and the joint action plan agreed with Children’s Services.

Parents should not be given the responsibility of making arrangements to seek medical advice themselves.

If a parent or carer is uncooperative or refuses to take the child for further assessment, this should be reported immediately to the Police and Children's Services notified of this course of action.  If possible the child should be kept under supervision until steps can be taken to secure his or her safety.

Wherever possible, the decision to refer should be undertaken jointly with another professional or senior colleague.  However this requirement should not prevent an individual professional of any status referring to Children's Services any infant that is Not Independently Mobile with bruising.

Children’s Services responsibilities:

Children’s Services should take any referral made under this protocol as requiring further multi-agency enquiry. Children’s services will convene a Strategy discussion involving police and health. This multi-agency discussion will decide whether to initiate S47 enquiries.

This investigation must also include a detailed history from the parent/carer, review of past medical history and family history including any   previous reports of bruising, and enquiry about vulnerabilities within the family.

On receipt of referral Children’s Services will arrange a safeguarding medical examination which will take place within 24 hours. Where a history of previous child protection concerns is present this information should be shared with the examining paediatrician.

Children’s Services should refer cases to the on call locality Community Paediatric Teams (weekdays) or on call Paediatrician at the local hospital (after working hours, weekends or bank holidays).

As far as possible, parents or carers should be included in the decision-making process unless to do so would jeopardise information gathering or pose a further risk to the child. Where consent is refused management direction should be sought. 

Following the outcome of the medical, Children’s Services will decide on the need for any further safeguarding actions, based on the opinion of the Consultant Paediatrician and in discussion with partner agencies.

Paediatrician responsibilities history taking and examination:

When a child is referred by Children's Services under this protocol, the Paediatrician will undertake the examination within 24 hours and should follow the ‘Multi Agency guidelines to follow when a child is referred for a Safeguarding Medical Examination’.

Where a referral is delayed for any reason, or where bruising is no longer visible, the paediatrician must still examine the child to assess, as a minimum, general health, signs of other injuries or pointers to maltreatment, and to exclude bleeding disorders.

Unintentional bruises in pre-mobile infants are rare, with a prevalence of <1%.

A cogent and credible explanation for the bruising should be sought at an early stage from parents or carers and recorded.  It is important to undertake this with open questioning and to avoid leading questions. 

The lack of a satisfactory, or consistent, explanation or an explanation incompatible with the appearance or circumstances of the injury, or with the child’s age or stage of development should raise suspicions of abuse. Inconsistencies or variations between carers or between interviews should raise suspicions of abuse.

A full physical examination of the completely undressed infant should be undertaken with appropriate consent.  This should include the physical presentation of the child, including the state of their clothing and include growth parameters. 

A review of the child's medical history, including any previous occurrence of bruising or injury, should be undertaken. Health visiting records and GP information or other relevant information should be actively sought and accessed by the examining paediatrician wherever possible to facilitate informed decision making.  If in a hospital setting, records of previous ED attendances, Outpatient visits and non-attendances should be actively searched for.  Consideration should be given to identified vulnerabilities within the family such as domestic abuse, substance misuse, mental health issues and deliberate self-harm.

As with other injuries, any underlying medical condition that may predispose a child to easy bruising must be excluded. Other conditions that may mimic or present with bruising should be considered.

If child protection concerns are identified, the SSCP safeguarding children Medical Examination form should be used to document history, examination, findings, opinion and recommendations. The importance of signed, timed, dated, accurate, comprehensive and contemporaneous records cannot be overemphasised.

In all cases careful mapping, description and recording of the size, colour characteristics, site, pattern and number of the bruises should be made on a body map (as included in the SSCP safeguarding children Medical Examination form) and a careful record of the carers/parents description of events and explanation for the bruising made.

Where possible the Paediatrician examining the child should discuss the findings and management plan with a colleague before advising Children’s Services and parents. If a trainee paediatrician sees the child it should be discussed with the supervising Consultant Paediatrician. If a career grade paediatrician (Consultant grade or SAS grade) examines the child it should, where possible be discussed with a suitably experienced colleague.

Where safeguarding concerns are identified, twins of infants presenting with bruising and any other siblings should be subjected to a medical examination and appropriate investigation.

Any non independently mobile infant with unexplained bruising or where non accidental injury cannot be excluded, should have:

  • A Skeletal Survey in line with SSCP guidelines. This should include a CT head to exclude intracranial injury and follow up CXR images at 11-14 days;
  • Ophthalmology examination should be undertaken by an experienced ophthalmologist, to exclude any eye injury and retinal haemorrhages;
  • Haematological and Biochemical investigations including clotting studies, should be consistent with national guidance as specified in Assessment of Bruises, Child Protection Companion 2013 (Reference 3). Paediatricians should work with their local haematologist to ensure an appropriate clotting screen is undertaken.

5. Specific Circumstances

Birth Injury: In the case of new-born infants where bruising may be the result of birth trauma, instrumental delivery, or medical procedures such as blood tests, professionals should remain alert to the possibility of physical abuse even in a hospital setting. In this situation professionals should take into account the birth history, the degree and continuity of professional supervision and the timing and characteristics of the bruising before coming to any conclusion. Where professionals are uncertain whether bruising is the result of medical causes (even before discharge from hospital), they should refer immediately to the on call Consultant Paediatrician or the Named Doctor for Safeguarding for further advice.  However, such discussion with the Consultant or Named Doctor should not delay a referral under this protocol if a professional is concerned regarding the mechanism for the injury or the safety and welfare of an infant. Body maps must be completed

In all cases: accurate record keeping is paramount, and must include all discussions and decisions made between professionals including where there is professional disagreement. Accurate details of bruising from birth trauma and medical causes must be recorded in the appropriate medical records, infant health record, parent held record (red book) and maternity discharge summary and communicated to the infant’s GP, community midwife and health visitor.

Birthmarks: these may not be present at birth, and may appear during the early weeks and months of life. Certain birthmarks, particularly Mongolian blue spots (congenital dermal melanocytosis) can mimic bruising. Where a professional requires confirmation of a birthmark they should in the first instance discuss with the GP. However, if there is any suspicion that the presenting feature is a bruise professional’s must refer the case in under this protocol.                                

In all cases: birthmarks, including when present from birth, must be recorded in the appropriate records including the infants red book and maternity discharge summary.

Self-inflicted injury: it is exceptionally rare for non-independently mobile infants to injure themselves during normal activity. Suggestions that a bruise has been caused by the infant hitting him/herself with a toy, falling on a dummy or banging against an adult’s body should not be accepted without detailed assessment by a paediatrician and social worker.

Injury from other children: it is unusual but not unknown for siblings to injure a baby. In these circumstances, the infant must still be referred under this protocol for further assessment, which must include a detailed history of the circumstances of the injury, and consideration of the parents’ ability to supervise their children.


6. Sharing Information and Consulting Colleagues

Please refer to Managing Individual Cases section of these procedures.

If there are concerns about the decision making and management of the case, any professional has a duty to escalate concerns to the next level in line the SSCP Escalation policy.


Appendix 1: Body Maps

Appendix 2: Contact Details

Appendix 3: Multi-agency Flowchart for the Management of Actual or Suspected Bruising in Infants who are not Independently Mobile


This page is correct as printed on Monday 8th of August 2022 04:32:53 AM please refer back to this website ( for updates.