Background: Child abuse and neglect, or maltreatment, is a serious public health problem, which may cause long-term effects on children’s health and wellbeing and expose them to further adulthood vulnerabilities. Studies on child maltreatment performed in Europe are scarce, and the number of participants enrolled relatively small. The aim of this multi-national European pilot study, was to evaluate the level of understanding and perception of the concepts of child abuse and neglect by European paediatricians working in different medical settings, and the attitude toward these forms of maltreatment in their practice.
Methods: The study was performed by a cross-sectional, descriptive, online survey, made available online to European paediatricians members of 50 national paediatric, who belonged to four different medical settings: hospital, family care, university centres and private practice.
The questionnaire, designed as a multiple choice questions survey, with a single answer option consisted of 22 questions/statements. Frequency analyses were applied. Most of the data were described using univariate analysis and Chi-squared tests were used to compare the respondents and answers and a significance level of p ≤ 0.05 applied.
Results: Findings show that European paediatricians consider the training on child maltreatment currently provided by medical school curricula and paediatric residency courses to be largely insufficient and continuing education courses were considered of great importance to cover educational gaps. Physical violence was recognized by paediatricians mostly during occasional visits with a significant correlation between detecting abuse during an occasional visit and being a primary care paediatrician. Results also showed a reluctance by paediatricians to report cases of maltreatment to the competent judicial authorities.
Conclusions: Data of this study may provide useful contribution to the current limited knowledge about the familiarity of European paediatricians with child maltreatment and their skills to recognize, manage and contrast abusive childhood experiences in their practice. Finally, they could provide local legislators and health authorities with information useful to further improve public health approaches and rules able to effectively address shared risk and protective factors, which could prevent child abuse and neglect from ever occurring.