When a physician realises that a child is being abused or neglected, he ends its suffering
The mistreatment of children is a shameful public health issue, particularly destructive for the children-victims. Child abuse affects negatively those of the child’s caregivers who are not involved in inflicting it, the child’s siblings, the social whole, even the doctors or nurses who help in dealing with it. Doctors who have specialised in recognising abuse can identify it and report it, and so have the power to stop it. However, identifying abuse or neglect can be an extremely difficult task, since in many instances the doctors must overcome their prejudices or beliefs, such as the idea that “people do not intentionally hurt their own children” or that “people do not invent symptoms in order to activate unnecessary medical procedures”.
The important role of the paediatrician in preventing abuse
The paediatrician’s most important role, perhaps more important that his identification of the abuse or his help when it is ended, is the prevention of abuse or neglect. Prevention starts from the very first visit of the parents to the paediatrician, immediately after the birth of a child. The paediatrician must become the counsellor and guide of the parents from the very first weeks when the infant returns home; in particular, he must speak to them about how to deal with the infant’s crying. Baby crying begins at about two weeks and is in many cases the main reason why infants are injured by their parents. It is therefore extremely important for the doctor to properly prepare the parents for this difficult, challenging stage of baby crying, suggesting “strategies” for calming the baby and easing the parents’ despair when they are not able to deal with the situation in a cool-headed way.
The difficult time of infancy and guidance by the paediatrician
As the child becomes more mobile and tries to explore the world around it, displaying its particular characteristics and gradually shaping its personality, the parents often try to sail in uncharted waters. The paediatrician’s contribution can be valuable, as he takes on the role of a “navigator” who will help the parents manage their children’s behaviour and educate them. Throughout this very challenging period the paediatrician must be available to listen to the parents, and encourage safe, healthy practices that help in disciplining the child without negative effects or corporal punishment.
The paediatrician also “checks on” the parents
Despite the very short time that the paediatrician often has available, he must know that “checking on” the parents regularly, discussing with them their concerns and fears, assuring them that he will be by their side when they need him or when they feel doubt, fear or anger, can prevent the abuse of a child. The doctors, through constant access to correct information and training for recognising all the signs that might indicate possible mistreatment of a child, and through prevention strategies that involve building a “relationship” not only with the child but also with the parents, can contribute substantially to reducing the number of children who experience cruelty and neglect.