Primary healthcare practitioners' screening practices and attitudes towards women survivors of child abuse

Ment Health Fam Med. 2012 Sep;9(3):181-9.


Background Child abuse survivors have an increased risk of developing various mental illnesses in adulthood, which may lead survivors to access primary healthcare services, in particular primary care mental health services. Aim To determine the frequency with which different primary care mental health practitioners encounter child abuse survivors in their practice and differences in their views about routine screening, level of importance, confidence and comfort in screening and supporting survivors, a cross-sectional study was conducted with 186 practitioners. Method The sample consisted of general practitioners (13.9%), psychologists (67.9%) and other professions such as psychiatrists, social workers, counsellors, psychotherapists, mental health nurses and other specific mental health practitioners (18.2%). Results Over 91% of practitioners reported that child abuse was a healthcare issue and was a problem for women in their practice. However, only 51.4% believed that women should be routinely screened for child abuse experiences. Significant differences among practitioner groups were found in aspects of screening and responding to survivors. General practitioners were significantly less likely to screen routinely and reported lower levels of confidence and comfort in conducting screening of survivors when compared with psychologists and other practitioners. The majority of practitioners saw it as psychologists' role to routinely screen; however, 57-82% of practitioners within each group reported that they would benefit from further training in areas relating to asking about and supporting survivors. Conclusion Findings highlighted further education as a potential area of need to enhance the knowledge and capacity of different practitioner groups in responding to women survivors of child abuse.

Keywords: child abuse survivors; primary care practitioners; screening.