Published: 08 July 2014

GPs keen to play bigger role in responding to child maltreatment cases

New report suggests GPs are well well-placed to act on concerns about issues such as child neglect and emotional abuse.

GPs are ideally placed to spot early warning signs of child maltreatment and to work with families to prevent them from getting worse, according to a joint report by researchers from the University of Surrey and UCL, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and leading children’s charity NSPCC.

The report, The GP’s role in responding to child maltreatment, claims that giving family doctors the time, support and autonomy to work with vulnerable families in the community – as well as referring cases to social care services - could benefit children and families in the short and long term.

But children’s experts say that GPs’ skills in building and maintaining a relationship with patients and treating the ‘whole person’ and the family rather than a single condition mean that they are ideally placed to take more of a leading role in addressing social and emotional issues relevant to health.

According to the NSPCC, there is a large gap between cases of child maltreatment in the community and the proportion of cases receiving attention from children’s social care. For every child who is subject to a child protection plan, they estimate that there are another eight not receiving services, and that this could be even higher.

This could be tackled by GPs providing long-term support and building relationships with families, as well as using the skills and expertise of health visitors. At the moment, these types of responses are not seen as part of GPs’ safeguarding role.

I support these findings and urge policy-makers and senior managers make the necessary changes so that the recommendations are put into practice.

Simon de Lusignan, University of Surrey

Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the RCGP, said: “GPs do the best they can to ensure that children are kept safe and well. By recognising early signs of strain in children and their families, which may involve physical or emotional symptoms, GPs can be of real help and in some cases help prevent situations or conditions getting worse.

Drawing on a comprehensive analysis of policy, practice guidance and research evidence, the report calls on governments and policy makers to re-think the role of GPs and maximise the potential of the crucial doctor-parent and doctor-child relationships to create a public health approach of early intervention to reduce child maltreatment.

Professor Simon de Lusignan, co-author of the report and Head of Department of Health Care Management and Policy at Surrey, commented: “As a practicing GP involved in this research I understand how front-line pressures prevent GPs from having the time to fully explore complex social and family issues that impact on a child’s health and wellbeing.

“Reorganising care so that there is more time given to children who are at risk or who are maltreated can not only improve general care, but can help keep families together and children safe from harm. GP’s are the first service many families in this position encounter and without the right support and investment they will fall at the first hurdle.

Read the full report on the RCGP website, discover our Department of Health Care Management and Policy, or explore the range of Health and Social Care programmes available at Surrey.

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