Background. Health care workers have been recognized as having a key role in the protection and care of Scotland's children, particularly in respect of identification and detection of child abuse. Nurses, especially health visitors, are often the first professionals to suspect that child abuse has taken place. While previous research has found that health visitors have primarily perceived their role as that of providing support and advice to vulnerable families, there are pressures on them to fulfil a more narrow surveillance role. Concurrent with a lack of clarity about the role of health visitors in child protection, there has been increasing recognition that other nurses can also make an important contribution, including those who do not work directly with children.
Aims. The aim of the study was to explore nurses’ understanding of their professional responsibilities in relation to child protection, and the potential for nurses to be involved in the protection of children from abuse.
Methods. A qualitative interview-based design was used, and 99 nurses working in an National Health Service trust in a Scottish city were interviewed, either individually or in groups, about their professional involvements in child protection issues. Interview data were subjected to thematic analysis.
Findings. There was lack of consensus among interviewees about the nursing remit in child protection issues, particularly with respect to the extent to which nurses should actively seek to detect cases of child abuse. An emphasis on identification and detection was not easily accepted by many nurses, and was perceived by some to be a change from their more traditional role of supporting families, as well as being potentially in conflict with some public health responsibilities.
Conclusion. In spite of the perception of some nurses that there is a sharp divide between child protection work and public health interventions, many of the child protection roles identified by nurses, such as supporting families, parenting education and service development, are clearly within the ambit of contemporary notions of public health. Furthermore, it is clear that there is a role in child protection for a much wider group of nurses than health visitors.