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More Power for Dr Cop
January 2, 2013 permalink
In a step lessening the distinction between a doctor and a cop British health services minister Dan Poulter has announced a new data base to record all visits by children for accident and emergency medical care. An opinion piece by Frank Furedi of Spiked says it will place consciencious parents under threat, while keeping truly abusive parents away from medical facilities, further harming their children. Many Canadians have no personal physician and have to rely on emergency room treatment for all medical care. For them, a British style database would record a child's complete medical history. Following Furedi's opinion is the announcement from the government website.
How ‘child protection’ policies harm children
We all want kids to be safe, but the plan to create a new database of children who visit A&E units will have the opposite effect.
Recent UK government policies aimed at protecting children have been based on an erroneous assumption - namely that intrusive monitoring of intergenerational relations is the only way to keep kids safe. In truth, such policies - including the mandatory vetting of all adults who work with children - are at best a form of PR, designed to demonstrate that officials take child safety seriously; and at worst, they fuel suspicion of all adults, creating an ever-widening cultural chasm between generations. This can actually diminish rather than enhance the security of young people.
The Lib-Con’s health services minister, Dan Poulter, announced over the holiday season that, starting in 2015, all children who visit an accident and emergency (A&E) department in a hospital will be logged on a new national database set up to identify potential victims of abuse. This is an example of precisely the kind of policy that will have the perverse effect of making life worse for parents and their children. Poulter justified his proposal on the basis that it will help doctors and nurses spot which children are frequently brought to A&E - apparently, frequent A&E visits are markers of child abuse.
Parents already know that every time they take their child to the hospital they will be scrutinised by health professionals on the lookout for signs of abuse. A minority of health professionals take the dogma of child protection so seriously that they have difficulty believing that a bruise or broken bone can be explained away as ‘just an accident’. Parents sometimes exchange jokes about how they fear that the bruises on their child’s body might be misinterpreted and their child taken into care. When I hear such exchanges between parents, while we watch our children play football, it quickly becomes clear that their ‘jokes’ express a recognition that they feel guilty until proven innocent.
When visiting an A&E is treated not only as a way of helping injured children to get better but also as a way of vetting their parents, then the very meaning of the experience is radically transformed. Even clinicians who have the best of intentions will start to consider what is on the database as being more significant than the singular injury on the child that requires emergency treatment. In such circumstances, clinicians are not simply offering a medical diagnosis - they’re giving an assessment of the moral status of the parent and the existential predicament of the child. And where a medical diagnosis is based on science, the moral assessment that clinicians will be called upon to give will essentially be based on guesswork.
While clinicians are busy assessing the risk of abuse faced by their young patient, the parents face a situation where an already stressful experience becomes even more difficult for them. Precisely at a time when they need to be reassured that their child will be okay, they will face a system that is likely to test their confidence further. That’s not good for parents. Nor is it good for children, whose security depends on the guidance of confident parents.
Some advocates of total child protection argue that the disagreeable experience of being scrutinised by health professionals is a small price to pay for the identification of abusers. But what policymakers overlook is that the knowledge that all children’s injuries will be logged on a database will lead some parents to think twice before they go anywhere near an A&E. In particular, that small minority of parents who are abusive will naturally tend towards avoiding a system where their behaviour might be exposed. Denied medical treatment, it will be the injured children of such parents who will pay the cost for this ill-thought-out policy.
New child abuse alert system for hospitals announced
Hospitals will have a new system to help doctors and nurses spot children suffering from abuse and neglect, Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter announced today.
Work on the system will begin in early 2013 and it will start to be introduced to NHS hospitals in 2015.
Doctors and nurses using the system, known as ‘Child Protection – Information System’, in emergency departments or urgent care centres will be able to see if the children they treat:
- are subject to a child protection plan or being looked after by the local authority
- have frequently attended emergency departments or urgent care centres over a period of time.
Medical staff will be able to use this information as part of their overall clinical assessment, along with information about where and when children have previously been receiving urgent treatment. This will help them build up a better picture of what is happening in the child’s life so they can alert social services if they think something might be wrong.
Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter said:
“Up until now, it has been hard for frontline healthcare professionals to know if a child is already listed as being at risk or if children have been repeatedly seen in different emergency departments or urgent care centres with suspicious injuries or complaints, which may indicate abuse.
“Providing instant access to that information means vulnerable and abused children will be identified much more quickly – which will save lives.”
Dr Amanda Thomas, Officer for Child Protection at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:
“The Report of the Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes Forum highlighted that professionals working in different care settings need to communicate better with one another on child protection issues, and highlighted the proposed Child Protection – Information System solution as an encouraging move towards ensuring that clinical professionals have immediate access to important child protection information.
“This solution is a positive step and an important part of the overall solution. The college has been involved from an early stage and will continue to work with the Department of Health to ensure it is introduced effectively, integrates well with the working practices of NHS staff and makes a genuine contribution to improving child protection practice.”
Source: Department of Health (UK)