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Original article

Vol. 153 No. 6 (2023)

Nurses’ and physicians’ reported difficulties and enablers to recognising and reporting child abuse in Swiss paediatric emergency and paediatric surgery departments – an observational study

  • Marlene Brigitte Berchtold
  • Christian Wüthrich
  • Daniel Garcia
  • Steffen Berger
  • Ruth Mari Löllgen
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2023;153:40017


BACKGROUND: Under-detection and under-reporting of child abuse remains a considerable challenge in paediatric care, with a high number of cases missed each year in Switzerland and abroad. Published data regarding the obstacles and facilitators of detecting and reporting child maltreatment among paediatric nursing and medical staff in the paediatric emergency department (PED) are scarce. Despite the existence of international guidelines, the measures taken to counteract the incomplete detection of harm done to children in paediatric care are insufficient.

AIM: We sought to examine up-to-date obstacles and enablers for detecting and reporting child abuse among nursing and medical staff in PED and paediatric surgery departments in Switzerland.

METHODS: We surveyed 421 nurses and physicians working in PEDs and on paediatric surgical wards in six large Swiss paediatric hospitals using an online questionnaire between February 1, 2017, and August 31, 2017.

RESULTS: The survey was returned by 261/421 (62.0%) respondents (complete n = 200, 76.6%; incomplete n = 61, 23.3%) with a preponderance of nurses (n = 150/261; 57.5%), 106/261 (40.6%) physicians, and 1/261 (0.4%) psychologists (n = 4/261; 1.5% missing profession). The stated obstacles to reporting child abuse were uncertainty about the diagnosis (n = 58/80; 72.5%), feeling unaccountable for notification (n = 28/80; 35%), uncertainty of whether reporting has any consequences (n = 5/80; 6.25%), lack of time (n = 4/80; 5%), forgetting to report (n = 2/80; 2.5%), and parental protection (n = 2/80; 2.5%) (unspecific answer, n = 4/80; 5%, multiple answers were possible, therefore items don not sum up to 100%). Even though most (n = 249/261 95.4%) respondents had previously been confronted with child abuse at/outside work, only 185/245 (75.5%) reported cases; significantly fewer nursing (n = 100/143, 69.9%) than medical staff (n = 83/99, 83.8%) (p = 0.013). Furthermore, significantly more nursing (n = 27/33; 81.8%) than medical staff (n = 6/33; 18.2%) (p = 0.005) reported a discrepancy between the number of suspected and reported cases (total 33/245 (13.5%). An overwhelming amount of participants were strongly interested in mandatory child abuse training (n= 226/242, 93.4%) and in the availability of standardised patient questionnaires and documentation forms (n = 185/243, 76.1%).

CONCLUSION: In line with previous studies, insufficient knowledge about and lack of confidence in detecting the signs and symptoms of child abuse were the principal obstacles to reporting maltreatment. To finally address this unacceptable gap in child abuse detection, we recommend the implementation of mandatory child protection education in all countries where no such education has been implemented in addition to the introduction of cognitive aid tools and validated screening tools to increase child abuse detection rates and ultimately prevent further harm to children.


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