Neglected nursing responsibility when suspecting child abuse

Kari Skarsaune, Terese Bondas


Background: Child abuse is a serious global problem with long-lasting consequences for the child and his/her family. Nursesare in a position to stop the abuse, to detect and initiate care. The aim of this study was to describe nurses’ experiences whenthey had suspected child abuse in their encounters with children and their families in various health care contexts. Child abuse isunderstood as a lack of care, neglect, physical or psychological, and sexual abuse according to World Health Organization andprevious research.

Methods: Descriptive exploratory research design that uses content analysis. Eight nurses were interviewed individually andwere chosen to represent a strategic sample of Norwegian health care units.

Results: The responsibility of the nurses was challenged and in many cases neglected when child abuse was suspected by thenurses. The child and his or her family lingered heavily in their minds regardless of whether they had acted on their suspicion ornot. They doubted what they saw and what it meant, and they feared the consequences for the child and the family when actingon their suspicion. The fear of consequences included themselves. Uncertainty and anxiety haunted the nurses, and they feltlittle support for their actions from their colleagues and leaders. The nurses felt that their knowledge of the signs of child abuse,documentation and report routines was insufficient.

Conclusions: Nurses need to raise their awareness, responsibility, and courage to act when they encounter suspected child abuse.Nurses therefore need more knowledge about child abuse but also ethical reflection, collegial and management support, andinterprofessional collaboration.

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Clinical Nursing Studies
ISSN 2324-7940(Print)   ISSN 2324-7959(Online)

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