Child abuse and neglect : social work experience at Tygerberg hospital

Louw, H. M. ; Van Schalkwyk, H. J. S. ; Barnes, J. M. ; Dhansay, S. ; Schaaf, H. S. (1999)

Please cite as follows:

Louw, H. M., Van Schalkwyk, H. J. S., Barnes, J. M., Dhansay, S. & Schaaf, H. S. 1999. Child abuse and neglect : social work experience at Tygerberg hospital. Social Work, 35(4):301-312.

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Since the proclamation of the Child Care Act 74 of 1983 suspected cases of child abuse and neglect have been notifiable by medical personnel. This obligation to notify has recently been extended to include social workers and several other categories of people taking care of children. The objective of this study is to share the social work experience in a tertiary care hospital in response to the greater awareness of child abuse and the importance of a central register for every institution or district managing cases of child abuse. A comprehensive register of all suspected cases of abuse in children below 18 years of age and cases of severe malnutrition has been kept at the Social Work Department at Tygerberg Hospital (TBH) in the Western Cape Province since 1987. This register was surveyed for the period 1 April 1994 - 31 March 1995. Five hundred and eighty six children with suspected child abuse were referred to the Social Work Department during this time. Of these, 246 (42%) were evaluated for child sexual abuse, 213 (36%) for physical abuse and 127 (22%) for severe malnutrition and neglect. Social workers from TBH were involved for a median duration of 1-2 months for physically abused and malnourished children, and 2-3 months for sexual abuse cases. A total of 5545 hours were spent on interviews, arrangements of children's safety, completing notification and referral reports, and preparing evidence for court and preparing children for court proceedings during this period. The magnitude of serious child abuse is extensive and more than the present infrastructure can handle. More social workers functioning within well-trained and supervised teams and placed suitably in the service network, notably in the outlying areas, are urgently needed.

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