The role of nurses, midwives in protecting children explored in safeguarding study

A Caring Futures Institute project is exploring the nature and scope of nursing and midwifery roles in protecting Australian children from abuse and neglect.

Led by researcher Dr Lauren Lines, the Safeguarding Project will investigate how nurses and midwives contribute to ensuring vulnerable children in their care are kept safe from harm.

Dr Lines says although it’s widely acknowledged that child protection is ‘everyone’s responsibility’ her work so far has showed that precise roles and responsibilities of nurses and midwives, as well as other health professionals, are unspecified.

“This makes it very difficult to prepare, support and resource nurses and midwives to safeguard children, and evaluation of their practice is not possible,” she says.

“Without clear understandings of professionals’ roles, we cannot provide children and families with coordinated multidisciplinary care that holistically meets their needs.”

Stage one of the Safeguarding Project is in progress and involves reviewing Australian policies and frameworks around child health, wellbeing, and protection.

This will identify how safeguarding is defined and enacted in Australia in relation to the role of nurses and midwives.

The second stage of the project aims to build consensus of the nature and scope of nursing and midwifery practices of safeguarding children in child-focussed practice settings in Australia.

It’s intended that the findings of the study will inform discussions with industry partners to develop a shared national understanding of the role of nurses and midwives.

Dr Lines says the findings would inform targeted education and professional development, increasing nursing and midwifery competence in safeguarding children in schools, communities, hospitals and many other settings.

It is hoped the project will eventually inform the development of professional practice standards for nurses and midwives in relation to safeguarding children.

Dr Lines, who has background in paediatric nursing, completed a PhD that explored the experiences of nurses working with children in Australia and how they keep kids safe from abuse and neglect.

Her work provided an initial insight into the unique role of nurses and how they can make a big difference to vulnerable children in their care.

“We constantly see media stories about how our society is failing to protect children from harm,” Dr Lines says.

“Most children do live in safe and supportive families, but some children are disproportionately at risk due to factors beyond families’ control such as poor health, insecure housing, poverty and/or racism.

“I know first-hand that nurses and midwives frequently encounter children at-risk of abuse or neglect, and as the largest group of health professionals we are well placed to make a difference.”

Dr Lines is working with Professor Julian Grant from Charles Sturt University and Professor Alison Hutton from the University of Newcastle.

Lauren Elizabeth Lines, Julian Maree Grant, Alison Hutton, ‘How can we work together?’ Nurses using relational skills to address child maltreatment in Australia: A qualitative study, Journal of Pediatric Nursing, Volume 54, 2020, Pages 1-9, ISSN 0882-5963,

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