This site is intended for health professionals only

GPs ‘need better training’ to help children affected by domestic violence, says study

GPs lack confidence in helping children exposed to domestic violence and need better training to improve support, according to new research from Bristol and Central Lancashire universities.

Writing in the journal Health and Social Care in the Community, the authors point out that although GPs are becoming more aware of patients experiencing domestic violence, the needs of children are often ignored at a time when NSPCC figures suggest that around 20% of children in the UK are exposed to domestic violence. The experts believe that better training, coupled with improved information-sharing between agencies, could help.

The study, ‘Making the links between domestic violence and child safeguarding: An evidence-based pilot training for general practice’, stresses that GPs have insufficient understanding of multi-agency work, a limited competence in gauging thresholds for child protection referral to children’s services and little understanding of outcomes for children.

But the authors point to the development of an evidence-based training intervention on domestic violence and child safeguarding for general practice teams, called RESPONDS (Researching Education to Strengthen Primary care ON Domestic violence and Safeguarding). This is designed to encourage GPS to engage more extensively with adults experiencing abuse, as well as responding directly to the needs of children.

Lead author Dr Eszter Szilassy, from the University of Bristol’s Centre for Academic Primary Care, in the School of Social and Community Medicine, said: ‘Our research found that, while GPs are fully aware of their child safeguarding responsibilities, they are uncertain about best practice at the interface between child safeguarding and domestic violence. The lack of relevant training contributes to failures to translate child safeguarding knowledge into safe and effective domestic violence-related practice strategies.’

Nicky Stanley, professor of social work at the University of Central Lancashire, said: ‘The research found that GPs were more ready to engage with victims and perpetrators of domestic violence than to talk directly to children or young people about this issue. They need to improve their confidence and skills in relation to this, since children are also their patients.’