There have been some tragic deaths and serious injuries to children caused by adults who should have been caring for them. Some children had seen medical professionals shortly before their death. This has led to intense interest in child protection proceedings and questions about how well doctors are trained to recognise children who may be at risk.
Aims To find out if doctors looking after children have had child protection training, are aware of child protection procedures and know how to identify children at risk.
Method All trainees from F1 to SpR/ST8 in the specialities of paediatrics, emergency medicine, orthopaedics, ophthalmology, otorhinolaryngology, psychiatry and general practice were selected. These specialities are where doctors are most likely to see children. All 14 postgraduate deaneries in England were offered the opportunity to participate in this study. The deaneries then sent a standard questionnaire to all of their trainees from F1-SpR/ST8 in the selected specialities. Responses were anonymous and returned directly to us via a secure online survey provider. Results 1084 responses from trainees of all grades and specialities working in 10 deaneries. These were analysed as a whole and also by grade, specialty and frequency of consultation with paediatric patients. 59 respondents saw children only as relatives of patients. Most consulted with children either frequently or exclusively. 710 doctors (65.5%) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I feel confident that I can recognise the signs of abuse or neglect.” 298 doctors (27.5%) did not know how to find out if a child is subject to a Child Protection Plan. 585 respondents (54%) knew how to make a referral to Children's Services. 385 (35.5%) said they were aware of the investigations and procedures which follow a child's referral to children's services. 105 doctors (9.7%) had “never had any formal child protection training.” A further 163 (15%) of doctors reported poor or very poor child protection training.
Conclusion Many doctors do feel confident in recognising the signs of abuse and understand the procedures to follow. However, a significant proportion of doctors are undertrained in this area. This must change if we are to offer vulnerable children the protection they need.