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Inaccurate reporting of child physical abuse by healthcare staff

eeman from the University's School of Dentistry, drew questionnaire responses from 139 Community Nurses, 147 General Medical Practitioners and 133 General Dental Practitioners in Northern Ireland – a response rate of 43 per cent.

The majority were in the 30-49 age group (71 per cent) and 43 per cent were male. They had been in practice for an average of 15 to 16 years.

Four key issues arose during the research:

Healthcare professional were worried about misidentifying physical abuse and unwilling to confront the family. They wanted to remain anonymous and feared hostility, damage to their relationships with families and repercussions for the child and the family. They were also concerned about possible legal action.

"The barriers for me are an uncertainty about what I am looking for and not wanting to start a problem for the family" said one of the Dentists who took part.

"I would be hesitant to get involved in child protection work for fear that this would trigger a formal complaint, a disciplinary hearing or even litigation" added one of the Doctors.

Respondents cited lack of clear guidelines and protocols as a barrier to reporting abuse. They were also concerned about their inexperience and poor interview techniques, especially when they were faced with parents who were keen to avoid detection.

"Recognising child abuse is always going to be a difficult and emotive area" said one Community Nurse. "Often parents, as carers, can give a plausible explanation for any injuries, bruising etc. Frequently this is the explanation people want to believe, as it will be less difficult to deal with by everyone concerned. What makes management of suspected cases of child abuse easier is having clear protocols and guidelines."

"Identifying and reporting is always more difficult when a child is seen infrequently" pointed out one Dentist.

Other barriers to reporting included w
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