Background: The suspicion of child abuse and neglect may arise from manifestations such as physical or psychosomatic symptoms, eating disorders, suicidal behavior, impaired parental functioning, etc. Thus the arrival of an abused or neglected child at the hospital provides an opportunity for detecting the problem and beginning a process of change. Optimal utilization of this potential depends on the awareness, diagnostic ability and cooperation of the staff.
Objectives: To assess knowledge about hospital policy, attitudes and actual behavior of hospital staff in cases of SCAN.
Methods: The questionnaire was adapted and distributed to a convenience sample of personnel at a children’s hospital. The questionnaire included items on knowledge of hospital policy regarding SCAN, attitudes towards inquiring about cases that appear suspicious, and behaviors in cases in which the respondent was involved. The comparison of responses to specific questions and among members of different professions was analyzed by chi-square test.
Results: Eighty-two staff members completed the questionnaires. Most of the respondents were aware of hospital policy regarding suspected abuse (86.6%), with fewer regarding suspected neglect (77.2%). Physicians were the least aware of these policies, as compared to medical students, nurses and social workers. Although most considered the issue of SCAN a responsibility of members of their own profession, 35.4% considered it primarily the responsibility of the welfare or judicial systems. Over 40% felt uncomfortable discussing suspicions with the child and nearly half felt uncomfortable discussing them with parents. The most often reported reason for this was the sense that they lacked skills or training for dealing with the issue. Despite this, when asked about actual behavior, 94.7% responded that they do try to clarify the circumstances related to the suspicious symptoms. Respondents were more likely to contact the hospital social worker than community resources (91.5% vs. 47.2%).
Conclusions: The findings highlight the need to encourage awareness, discourse and training of medical personnel about issues related to SCAN in order to maximize their potential contribution to identifying children at risk.