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Wednesday, September 29, 1999 Published at 02:05 GMT 03:05 UK


Experts back hidden abuse cameras

Some hospitals controversially use hidden cameras if abuse is suspected

The use of hidden cameras in hospitals to spot child abuse by parents is legal and ethical, says a report.

The technique was used most controversially at North Staffordshire Hospital where researchers suggested some cot deaths were the result of child abuse.

A specialist advisory committee in paediatrics was set up as a result and raised reservations and objections concerning the procedure, which is only used when abuse is suspected.

But another study, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, the journal of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPaed), says hidden cameras, monitored by nurses or other health staff, should continue "in the absence of any viable alternative".

The research, conducted by Dr Neela Shabde, one of the doctors on the advisory committee, and Professor Alan Craft, a vice president of the RCPaed, says medical staff have a legal duty under the Children Act 1989 to intervene to protect the best interests of the child.

But there are concerns about when to intervene.

"One of the main dilemmas is that the abusive action has to be allowed to continue long enough to obtain conclusive evidence, yet intervention has to occur in sufficient time to prevent harm to the child," it says.

But the researchers say the risk must be balanced against the danger of returning the child to an abusive situation.

Betrayal of trust

Some health staff have expressed concerns that the use of hidden cameras is a betrayal of trust and a breach of the partnership between parents and paediatricians.

But the researchers say the procedure is "no different" from current child protection investigation procedures except that it may take longer and that police have already established "the principle of video surveillance".

They add that a recent child death inquiry found that "parental rights cannot be insisted upon by a parent who has abused these rights".

They also state that partnership may not be possible in "the type of abuse where perpetrators are devious" and that, if the carer knows they are being videoed, they will change their behaviour.

And they say hidden cameras could help ensure that innocent parents do not unfairly have their children taken into care.

The researchers say protocols have been developed and that staff should not be forced into taking part against their wishes.

"They must have the right to opt out," they say.

And they call for proper training of staff taking part in hidden screening, particularly given concerns that hospitals could be sued by representatives of the child if delayed intervention causes it harm.

They also counsel that it is wise to involve at least two independent experts in drawing up protocols.

The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths said it agreed with the use of hidden cameras in cases of suspected child abuse, but only if local child protection procedures were followed.

But it pointed out that they "did not have a major relevance for cot death" since they were used to investigate "repeated episodes of collapse" which only happened in 7% of cot death cases.

"CVS [covert video surveillance] may reveal child abuse, though child abuse is not the only cause of repeated episodes of collapse," said the foundation.

The Royal College of Nursing said it had concerns about the use of hidden cameras and would only back their use if "appropriate protocols" were agreed.

It is also against staff being forced to take part in CVS if they are ethically opposed.

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