Leading experts involved in the field of child abuse are gathering today at the Royal Society of Medicine - Monday 6 June - at a special conference to discuss the growing 'crisis' in child protection.
Organised by the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) in association with The Expert Witness Institute, the one-day conference - Child Abuse and The Expert Witness - has been arranged in response to growing concerns from the profession about the shortfall in the number of paediatricians working in this important area, and the reasons why the numbers are falling.
Complaints about doctors, who have reported suspected cases of child abuse have deterred many from coming forward for child protection work and a continuing fall in numbers could put the future of child protection work in jeopardy. Between 2001 and 2003, there were only an extra five paediatricians working predominantly or exclusively in the community - a rise of just 0.3% in two years.
Speaking at the conference, Mr Roger Clements, Governor of the Expert Witness Institute said: “Doctors have been put off becoming expert witnesses in child protection cases due to miscarriages of justice, where experts have been accused of getting evidence of child abuse wrong and because doctors are being unfairly persecuted for reporting suspected child abuse cases.
“We need to address this situation urgently so children are not being put at risk or in danger. More awareness of the issues faced by doctors working in this area and better support and expert witness training should help encourage more doctors to get involved in child protection cases.”
The conference therefore will provide an opportunity for doctors to learn more about the practical and scientific issues involved in child protection cases and how, for example, criminal evidence is presented in court. Doctors will also learn more about what they can expect as expert witnesses and how they should approach giving child abuse evidence in court.
Doctors and in particular paediatricians, will learn how scientific evidence is dealt with in court, and how civil and criminal courts should use the evidence of expert witnesses in order to improve communication between the medical and legal professions.
A report published last week by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) provides further evidence of the concerns that will be raised and discussed at the conference today. The lack of growth in the number of community paediatricians being highlighted as a number one concern as no one wants to be an expert in child abuse cases.
Speaking at the conference Professor Sir Alan Craft, President of the RCPCH said: “this conference will give doctors a better understanding of how the legal process works and how their evidence will be used in court in child protection cases. We hope that providing doctors with more information on these issues will boost their confidence and encourage more to come forward for child protection work.”