Seeing shocking deprivation will stay with me forever: how I started working in child protection

Gayle Hann, consultant paediatrician and named doctor for child protection, explains her journey to working in safeguarding.

How did you get interested in safeguarding work?

When I was 18, I raised money for a Romanian charity and was fortunate enough to join the team of volunteers who renovated an orphanage. My memories of the day I first walked into the orphanage and saw the poor conditions and shocking deprivation will stay with me forever.

I continued to work in Romania for the next 12 years, and sadly saw the lasting impact of years of emotional and physical deprivation.

During this period I was studying psychology and I became an assistant psychologist for a drugs and alcohol rehabilitation service. I retrained as a doctor in 2002 and worked at a hospital serving a diverse community with a high level of deprivation. I gained experience of managing families in which there are many child safeguarding concerns.

With my background of psychology and experiences in Romania, it seemed a natural progression to work in child protection, and I have been the named doctor for child protection since 2013.

What is your typical day?

It involves attending ward handover to see which children have child protection concerns and being available to provide advice to my colleagues on their management and safe discharge home. I am part of the safeguarding team and touch base with my team daily to answer any concerns.

I have a weekly child protection multidisciplinary meeting where all of these referrals are reviewed with the local boroughs’ social workers to see what decisions have been made and whether we are happy with the actions being taken to safeguard these children. Government guidelines and the law are constantly changing and it is my responsibility to make sure that the hospital’s safeguarding procedures are kept up to date.

I also supervise any child protection medicals that are carried out by junior doctors and help them to write police statements and court reports. Keeping children safe involves multi-agency working with medical staff both in hospital and in the community, social workers, police and non-statutory agencies such as domestic violence charities.

My daily work involves a huge amount of multi-agency working which has its own challenges to ensure that agencies don’t have competing priorities and remain child centred.

Child protection is very demanding emotionally. How do you cope with the stress?

It is difficult to not take work home emotionally and I have had some sleepless nights. It is important to have an outlet for the stress. All child protection doctors have mandatory supervision and I am part of a named doctors group at which we discuss difficult cases and get support to cope with the demands of the job.

I also relieve stress by spending time doing fun things with my family, I have a great child protection team whom I can talk to and, when times get tough, I do enjoy a glass of good red wine!

Find out more about a career in paediatrics