Caregiver experiences of public services following child trauma exposure: a qualitative study


This paper explores caregivers’ experiences of public services post-trauma and perceptions of improvements to public services.


Many children in low and middle income countries (LMIC) are exposed to trauma. Contact with public services are a potential influence on parent–child reactions and coping post-trauma. Little is known about how caregivers perceive these interactions. The aim of this study was to explore caregivers’ experiences of accessing and interacting with public services post-trauma and perceptions of needed improvements to public services in a LMIC context. Qualitative interviews were conducted with 20 female caregivers from a high-risk settlement in South Africa after child trauma exposure. Three themes and seven sub-themes were identified regarding caregivers’ perceptions of interactions with public services post-trauma. The key themes identified related to (1) communication and exchanges with law enforcement, (2) consequences of an under-resourced justice system and (3) importance of communication and empathy in the healthcare system. Interactions with police were often positive. However, caregivers explained that police-family communication post-trauma could be improved and may help to lessen caregiver anxiety and concerns for the child’s safety post-trauma. Caregivers perceived the judicial system to be under-resourced as contact with the judicial system was often protracted and caused child anxiety and distress. Medical treatment was reportedly rushed, with extensive waiting times and little information provided to caregivers regarding the child’s injuries or treatment. Some medical staff were perceived as unsympathetic during the child’s treatment which was found to exacerbate caregiver and child distress post-trauma. This study provides insight into caregiver experiences of accessing public services following child trauma exposure in a high-risk LMIC context. Public services were perceived as oversubscribed and under-resourced and negative interactions often influenced caregiver responses and appraisals of child safety. Given the impact of poor interactions with public services on families post-trauma, additional research is needed to investigate feasible improvements to public services in LMIC.

Full Reference

Williamson, V., Halligan, S. L., Coetzee, B., Butler, I., Tomlinson, M., Skeen, S. and Stewart, J., 2018. Caregiver experiences of public services following child trauma exposure: a qualitative study. International Journal of Mental Health Systems.