July 21, 2009 / 11:04 PM / in 10 years

Guidelines to help health workers spot child abuse

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain announced new guidelines on Wednesday to help healthcare professionals to identify child maltreatment at an early stage.

A young girl skips through daffodil flowers during the Easter break in Astbury, March 28, 2005. REUTERS/Darren Staples

The high-profile case of Baby P, the 17-month old toddler who died in 2007 after being subjected to prolonged domestic violence, raised questions about the effectiveness of child protection measures.

The guidelines issued by The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) are targeted at identifying children where there is strong evidence of maltreatment.

“We have suggested that healthcare professionals need to seek an explanation for any injuries they see,” said Danya Glaser, the guideline development group chair.

Glaser said as many as one in 10 children suffer maltreatment during childhood and that there was a need for more concrete guidelines on how to identify child abuse. “The new guidelines are concise, precise, evidence based, accessible.”

The guidance aims to provide more rigorous criteria for identifying child abuse.

“The hope is possibly more children will be identified early. There may be more referrals but with greater clarity,” Glaser said.

The study identifies physical features such as eye injuries and teeth marks, signs of sexual abuse and neglect as indicators that should prompt health workers to either consider or suspect child maltreatment.

Glaser added that the guidelines were not only a tool to aid health workers but also to protect children and support parents who may unintentionally be harming their children.

“We have suggested that cultural practices are not a suitable explanation for harm to children.”

Last year a United Nations panel called on Britain to stem persistently high rates of violence and sexual abuse against children at home and in school.

Information from NICE showed in the 12 months to March 31 in 2008 there were 538,500 referrals of children to social services departments.

While the effectiveness of the guidelines have yet to be tested, Glaser said the evidence based proposals were likely to provide healthcare professionals with a comprehensive list of “alerting features” — warning signs to help recognise child abuse.

Kathryn Gutteridge, a victim of abuse in childhood and now a midwife, said the list was a good step in identifying possible signals of child abuse.

“This guideline will help health care professionals because I was taken to the GP many times with what seemed insignificant problems,” said Gutteridge, who helped to advise on drawing up the guidelines.

Editing by Keith Weir

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