Suspected child abuse and neglect reporting behaviour

Schweitzer, Robert, Buckley, Lisa, Harnett, Paul, & Loxton, Natalie (2003) Suspected child abuse and neglect reporting behaviour. Abused Child Trust.


Executuve Summary Background and Aims Child abuse and neglect is a tragedy within our community, with over 10,000 substantiated reports of abuse and neglect in Queensland in the past year. The considerable consequences of child abuse and neglect are far-reaching, substantial and can be fatal. The reporting of suspicions of child abuse or neglect is often the first step in preventing further abuse or neglect. In the State of Queensland, medical practitioners are mandated by law to report their suspicions of child abuse and neglect. However, despite this mandate many still do not report their suspicions. A 1998 study indicated that 43% of medical practitioners had, at some time, made a conscious decision to not report suspected abuse or neglect (Van Haeringen, Dadds & Armstrong, 1998). The aim of this study was to gain a better understanding of beliefs about reporting suspected child abuse and neglect and the barriers to reporting suspected abuse and neglect by medical practitioners and parents and students. The findings have the potential to inform the training and education of members of the community who have a shared responsibility to protect the wellbeing of its most vulnerable members. Method In one of the largest studies of reporting behaviour in relation to suspected child abuse and neglect in Australia, we examined and compared medical practitioners’ responses with members of the community, namely parents and students. We surveyed 91 medical practitioners and 214 members of the community (102 parents and 112 students) regarding their beliefs and reporting behaviour related to suspected child abuse and neglect. We also examined reasons for not reporting suspected abuse or neglect, as well as awareness of responsibilities and the appropriate reporting procedures. To obtain such information, participants anonymously completed a comprehensive questionnaire using items from previous studies of reporting attitudes and behaviour. Executive Summary Abused Child Trust Report August 2003 5 Findings Key findings include: • The majority of medical practitioners (97%) were aware of their duty to report suspected abuse and neglect and believed they had a professional and ethical duty to do so. • A majority of parents (82%) and students (68%) also believed that they had a professional and ethical duty to report suspected abuse and neglect. • In accord with their statutory duty to report suspected abuse and neglect, 69% of medical practitioners had made a report at some point. • Sixteen percent of parents and 9% of students surveyed indicated that they had reported their suspicions of neglect and abuse. • The most endorsed belief associated with not reporting suspected child abuse and neglect was that, ‘unpleasant events would follow reporting’. • Over a quarter of medical practitioners (26%) admitted to making a decision not to report their suspicions of child abuse or neglect on at least one occasion. • Compared with previous research, there has been a decline in the number of medical practitioners who decided not to report suspected abuse or neglect from 43% (Van Haeringen et al., 1998) to 26% in the current study. • Fourteen percent of parents and 15% of students surveyed had also chosen not to report a case of suspected abuse or neglect. • Attitudes that most strongly influenced the decision to report or not report suspected abuse or neglect differed between groups (medical practitioners, parents, or students). A belief that, ‘the abuse was a single incident’ was the best predictor of non-reporting by medical practitioners, while having ‘no time to follow-up the report’ or failing to be ‘convinced of evidence of abuse’ best predicted failure to report abuse by students. A range of beliefs predicted non-reporting by parents, including the beliefs that reporting suspected abuse was ‘not their responsibility’ and ‘knowing the child had retracted their statement’. Conclusions Of major concern is that approximately 25% of medical practitioners with a mandated responsibility to report, as well as some members of the general public, revealed that they have suspected child neglect or abuse but have made the decision not to report their suspicions. Parents and students perceived the general community as having responsibility for reporting suspicions of abuse or neglect. Despite this perception, they felt that lodging a report may be overly demanding in terms of time and they had the confidence in their ability to identify child abuse and neglect. An explanation for medical practitioners deciding not to report may be based upon their optimistic belief that suspected abuse or neglect was a single incident. Our findings may best be understood from the ‘inflation of optimism’ hypothesis put forward by the Nobel Laureate, Daniel Kahneman. He suggests that in spite of rational evidence, human beings tend to make judgements based on an optimistic view rather than engaging in a rational decision-making process. In this case, despite past behaviour of abuse or neglect being the best predictor of future behaviour, medical practitioners have taken an optimistic view, choosing to believe that their suspicion of child abuse or neglect represents a single incident. The clear implication of findings in the current research is the need for the members of the general community and medical practitioners to be better appraised of the consequences of their decision-making in relation to suspicionsof child abuse and neglect. Finally findings from parents and students relating to their reporting behaviour suggest that members of the larger community represent an untapped resourcewho might, with appropriate awareness, play a more significant role in theidentification and reporting of suspected child abuse and neglect.

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ID Code: 56156
Item Type: Report
Refereed: No
Keywords: child abuse, child neglect, reporting, medical practitioners, suspected abuse
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > PSYCHOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCES (170000) > PSYCHOLOGY (170100) > Health Clinical and Counselling Psychology (170106)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Current > Schools > School of Psychology & Counselling
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2003 Abused Child Trust
Deposited On: 07 Jan 2013 23:48
Last Modified: 12 Aug 2013 02:11

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