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Child protection is everybody's business

Marilyn Eveleigh
Consultant Editor

This edition of NiP contains a large section devoted to the needs and care of our children. It recognises their strength but acknowledges their vulnerability in being part of our present society - a society that does not always set a good example in terms of sound parenting, sexual behaviour and nutritional intake, and one that sends out mixed messages about racial and religious tolerance, material aspirations and role models.

The wretched suffering and death of Victoria Climbié in February 2000 spawned a number of reports and initiatives into how we, as a society, should prepare for the safety and development of the full potential of our children. The Laming Report on Victoria's death made harrowing reading. Keeping Children Safe was the response to the findings of Lord Laming's inquiry. Subsequently, every nurse on the NMC register was sent a booklet called What to Do if You're Worried a Child is Being Abused, which clearly spelt out that we all have a responsibility to safeguard children, whatever we do, wherever we are and at every opportunity. Did you get your copy? It is essential reading and firmly lays the responsibility on you and me. If you didn't receive a copy you can download it from www.doh.gov.uk/safeguardingchildren/index.htm

Every Child Matters is the government's green paper that outlines the way services are provided for children. It proposes radical changes to create a more proactive and integrated approach to enable children to reach their full potential. All this is outlined on page 18 by the National Clinical Director for Children, Professor Al Aynsley-Green, as he introduces us to the forthcoming "NSF?for Children, Young People and Maternity Services".

Being able to link up with others who have contact with a potentially vulnerable child is crucial to effective safeguards. And it is not just the healthcare family I refer to: education, police and social services all have links with our children. Timing is equally important. I am aware of an informal survey taking place in general practice to establish whether all staff had access to the local child protection procedure manual. It found that many surgeries did not have the document, and some that did had an out-of-date edition. This left practice nurses and other staff very vulnerable if they suspected intentional harm to a child. Where do you turn to for support? Who can you share your concerns with? What if a confidante tells you that it is "probably ­nothing" - where is your responsibility as a professional?

Community nurses are inextricably involved in children's lives - as midwives, as practice nurses giving immunisations, as school nurses, as health visitors, as family planning nurses with underage but responsible, sexually active young people, and as providers of chronic disease management and health promotion healthcare services, such as young people's drop-in centres.

In all of these relationships we have an inbuilt confidentiality contract. Yet sometimes this needs to be broken for the greater good of the child. But it is a brave step to act on suspicions alone - and often a lonely one. Where is your training for this? How often do you put the training into practice or update it?
If you do anything after reading this edition of NiP, I strongly suggest you:

  • Ensure you know where the PCT child protection procedure manual is in your workplace.
  • Are aware of the contact number of your Lead Nurse in Child Protection, who can offer a sounding board as well clear, formal procedural advice.
  • Share your information on the procedures and contact with all those you work with.

I hope you never need to use the information - but being prepared could save a child from intentional abuse and neglect.