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Health visitors have a key role in preventing child maltreatment!

21st August 2017

In support of Health Visiting Week (#HVWeek), and with today’s theme being around Safeguarding, a blog by one of our Fellows, Dr Catherine Powell, Safeguarding and Child Protection Consultant.

Dr Catherine Powell, FiHV

Dr Catherine Powell, FiHV

Child maltreatment (abuse and neglect) is a major public health issue of our time.  There is a growing body of evidence that links childhood adversity, including maltreatment, with poor health and wellbeing across the lifespan.

Prevention is key

Safeguarding and child protection are core activities of health visiting and health visitors are well-placed to undertake this role.  The definition of safeguarding provided in statutory guidance embraces our core values of prevention, provision of safe and effective care, and in enabling all children to have the best possible outcomes.  Prevention is, of course, key. The advice, support, signposting and information-giving that health visitors routinely provide to all new families will have an impact on reducing the risks to infants and young children.  This needs to be both recognised and celebrated.

Health visiting skills

Health visitors’ skills in holistic assessment of child and family wellbeing means that we will recognise that some families have additional needs. Here, timely referrals for ‘early help’ and/or a step up to universal ‘plus’ provision of services may prevent a situation from deteriorating and resulting in harm to a child.  For some families, a referral to children’s social care (or in an emergency the police service) will be needed.  In these cases, it will be important for the health visitor to be able to clearly articulate why they are concerned, and what their input has been, and will continue to be.  The notion of ‘working together’ reflects an open and honest relationship with parents, as well as the partnership with other professionals and agencies that are involved in keeping children safe and well.  Authoritative practice, a buzzword in contemporary child protection working, means having ‘high expectations’ of all parties (i.e. parents and of each other) to ensure the safety and wellbeing of a child.  That the child’s welfare is paramount is enshrined in legislation and practice.

iHV Champions Training and Practice Guidance

In 2014, I was pleased to have been asked by the Institute of Health Visiting to develop and deliver a programme of training to promote good practice in safeguarding and child protection.  As part of the learning, and with an emphasis on practice improvement, participants in the programme deliberated key messages for health visiting practice arising from their analyses of contemporary serious case review reports.

The iHV has subsequently published the top twenty messages as ‘Practice Guidance’[1].   These are very much messages from, and for, the frontline of practice.  As we reflect on the public health contribution of the profession, it is my hope that these messages will help us in our ambition to ensure happy and healthy lives in childhood and beyond.

Catherine Powell PhD BNSc.(Hons) RGN, RSCN, RHV, Fellow, Institute of Health Visiting.

[1] Powell, C (2017) Serious Case Reviews: messages for health visiting practice Institute of Health Visiting.  This document is available to iHV members only


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