Pediatric Agitation in the Emergency Department: A Survey of Pediatric Emergency Care Coordinators

Ashley A. Foster*, Mohsen Saidinejad, Susan Duffy, Jennifer A. Hoffmann, Robin Goodman, Michael C. Monuteaux, Joyce Li

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Acute agitation episodes in the emergency department (ED) can be distressing for patients, families, and staff and may lead to injuries. We aim to understand availability of ED resources to care for children with acute agitation, perceived staff confidence with agitation management, barriers to use of de-escalation techniques, and desired resources to enhance care. Methods: We conducted a survey of pediatric emergency care coordinators (PECCs) in EDs in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Los Angeles County, California. Results: PECCs from 63 of 102 (61.8%) EDs responded. PECCs reported that ED staff feel least confident managing agitation due to developmental delay (DD) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (52.4%). Few EDs had a separate space to care for children with mental health conditions (22.5%), a standardized agitation scale (9.6%), an agitation management guideline (12.9%), or agitation management training (24.2%). Modification of the environment was not perceived possible for 42% of EDs. Participants reported that a barrier to the use of the de-escalation techniques distraction and verbal de-escalation was perceived lack of effectiveness (22.6% and 22.6%, respectively). Desired resources to manage agitation included guidelines for medications (82.5%) and sample care pathways (57.1%). Conclusions: ED PECCs report low confidence in managing agitation due to DD or ASD and limited pediatric resources to address acute agitation. Additional pediatric-specific resources and training, especially for children with DD or ASD, are needed to increase clinician confidence in agitation management and to promote high-quality, patient-centered care. Training programs can focus on the early identification of agitation and the effective use of non-invasive de-escalation strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)988-992
Number of pages5
JournalAcademic Pediatrics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2023


  • agitation
  • emergency department
  • mental and behavioral health
  • pediatric preparedness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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