Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

How do public child healthcare professionals and primary school teachers identify and handle child abuse cases? A qualitative study

Manuela WA Schols1*, Corine de Ruiter1 and Ferko G Öry2

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands

2 TNO Quality of Life, Leiden, The Netherlands

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:807  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-807

Published: 5 September 2013



Public child healthcare doctors and nurses, and primary school teachers play a pivotal role in the detection and reporting of child abuse, because they encounter almost all children in the population during their daily work. However, they report relatively few cases of suspected child abuse to child protective agencies. The aim of this qualitative study was to investigate Dutch frontline workers’ child abuse detection and reporting behaviors.


Focus group interviews were held among 16 primary school teachers and 17 public health nurses and physicians. The interviews were audio recorded, transcribed, and thematically analyzed according to factors of the Integrated Change model, such as knowledge, attitude, self-efficacy, skills, social influences and barriers influencing detection and reporting of child abuse.


Findings showed that although both groups of professionals are aware of child abuse signs and risks, they are also lacking specific knowledge. The most salient differences between the two professional groups are related to attitude and (communication) skills.


The results suggest that frontline workers are in need of supportive tools in the child abuse detection and reporting process. On the basis of our findings, directions for improvement of child abuse detection and reporting are discussed.

Child abuse; (Risk) detection; Reporting; Behavioral determinants; Teachers; Public child health professionals