Access provided by
London Metropolitan University
Meaningful conversations are important when there are concerns for children of any age presenting to emergency care
Emergency staff often view young people aged 16 and 17 through an adult lens when they present to emergency departments.
Emergency Nurse. 30, 3, 9-9. doi: 10.7748/en.30.3.9.s3
Published: 03 May 2022
Practitioners are better at recognising and responding to safeguarding concerns in younger children than in this age range, suggests the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
Yet adolescence is a time of increased risk of harm and exploitation, containing ‘critical moments’ in which professionals could make a difference, according to an independent child safeguarding panel that works with the UK government.
Such a time might be when young people attend hospital or other urgent care centres with physical injuries.
In these cases, front-line nurses are best placed to recognise safeguarding concerns.
But as thresholds for child and adult safeguarding processes differ significantly, it is important for nurses to view 16 and 17 year olds as children and follow the appropriate procedures.
Regardless of their circumstances, young people of this age group are still entitled to the protection associated with being a child.
For example, often, 16 and 17 year olds who are parents themselves are seen as competent and independent, which can lead to assumptions being made about their ability to protect themselves.
Similarly, young people who are in full-time employment, or who are living or working independently, can also be perceived to be self-sufficient.
Regrettably, it is often these children who face increased risk of harm as they are often without adult protection. Understanding the complexities of a child’s life is crucial.
‘Nurses may find that young people initially present with a physical health condition, as this can be easier to discuss with healthcare professionals than abuse’
Professional curiosity is an integral communication skill, whereby questions are asked in a meaningful way and information is challenged and not taken at face value.
This curiosity allows a meaningful insight into the child’s life, by considering what life is truly like for them at this moment in time.
Nurses may find that young people initially present with a physical health condition, as this can be easier to discuss with healthcare professionals than abuse or maltreatment.
Anecdotally, nurses report that exercising professional curiosity can feel intrusive at times: going against societal norms and delving into the personal lives of our patients may feel uncomfortable.
However, a recent serious case review relating to the rape and sexual abuse of a 15-year-old girl by teenage males highlights how important it is for practitioners to be professionally curious.
Creating an opportunity for a meaningful conversation is therefore crucial.
This is an abridged version of an article at rcni.com/professional-curiosity
NSPCC – Teenagers: Learning from Case Reviews tinyurl.com/NSPCC-resources
Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel (2021). tinyurl.com/Child-Safeguarding
HM Government (2018) Advice for Practitioners Providing Safeguarding Services to Children, Young People, Parents and Carers. tinyurl.com/Practitioner-Safeguarding