A situation analysis of hospitalised physically abused pre-school children in South Africa: Contributing social factors
The experience of physical abuse is a traumatic event, which is so intense and frightening that it overwhelms the child's ability to cope with his/her normal developmental tasks. The goal of the study was to expand social worker's knowledge of the social circumstances of physically abused preschool children who are hospitalised, and to offer guidelines for professionals from a variety of disciplines to identify and assess physical abuse. To obtain the goals, the objectives were threefold: first to present demographic data on children with intentional physical injuries and their families; second, to describe the experiences of the perpetrators and circumstances under which the abuse took place; and third, to determine how social workers assess children who are suspected of having been physically abused. The study was conducted at the Red Cross Children's Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. Both qualitative and quantitative methods were applied. The diagnoses reported were drawn from a sample of preschool aged children presenting with intentional physical injuries at the hospital over a four month period, interviews with four perpetrators using set guidelines, and conducting a survey with four of the social workers employed at the hospital using a self-completion questionnaire. The findings offered demographic details of the abused children and confirmed that children under the age of six were the most vulnerable age group to be subjected to physical abuse. Head injuries and gunshot wounds were the most frequent occurring physical injuries in this sample, indicating gang activities, effects of poverty and substance misuse. Four case studies are presented following the interviews with the perpetrators/parents, which give a situation analysis of these social circumstances under which the abuse took place. The social circumstances under which the physical abuse took place, and criteria used for assessment can be used as a framework for professionals rendering services to children.