Context In Brazil, poverty and inequality go hand in hand with violence. Although Brazil is a middle-income country, over one in five Brazilians live in poverty and accidents and violence are the principal cause of death among children, with some of the highest rates in Brazil's poorest states. Over the last two decades, Brazil has made great strides in its legislation and policy-making to protect children from abuse and neglect.
Aims This study aimed to investigate the thoughts and perceptions of professionals concerning the safeguarding systems in Bahia, barriers to recognition, reporting and management of cases of child abuse and neglect, and suggestions for improvements.
Methods Focus groups were complemented with semi-structured interviews and questionnaires. The study was based in Barra de São Francisco in Bahia, northeast Brazil. Professionals working with children and with Bahia's safeguarding systems were recruited. Sessions were led by a trained moderator and digitally recorded. The recordings were transcribed and analysed using a constant comparative framework to identify common emergent themes.
Results Ten focus groups and eight semi-structured interviews were conducted. 55 questionnaires were completed. Findings were consistent across all professional groups and methods of data collection. Participants identified numerous barriers to effective safeguarding, including a strong fear of violent reprisals for reporting cases (despite anonymous reporting systems) and a lack of training and multidisciplinary working. There was a perception that the newly-established Child Protection Agency is ill-equipped to deal with the complexity of cases and that prosecutions are too slow, reducing motivation to report abuse. They felt that better training and stronger communications between professional groups working together to support the Child Protection Agency, would substantially improve the situation.
Conclusions Using focus groups complemented by semi-structured interviews and questionnaires was a highly effective means of promoting open discussion of the sensitive and complex topic of safeguarding, while ensuring that all views were heard. Although a lack of human and physical resources inevitably hinders safeguarding efforts in Barra, Bahia, participants identified several obstacles which may be addressed using available resources, to help make Brazil's children's new Constitutional rights a reality.