Navigating complexity of child abuse through intuition and evidence-based guidelines: a mix-methods study among child and youth healthcare practitioners

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Dutch child and youth health care (CYHC) practitioners monitor and assess the well-being of children. One of their main concerns is identifying cases of child abuse, which is an arduous and sensitive task. In these contexts, CYHC-practitioners use both evidence-based guidelines aimed at increasing the quality of care through rationalised decision-making, and intuition. These two practices are seen as being at odds with each other, yet empirical research has shown that both are necessary in healthcare. This study aims to unravel how intuition is perceived and used by Dutch CYHC-practitioners when identifying and working with cases of child abuse, and how this relates to their evidence-based guidelines. METHODS: A sequential exploratory mixed-methods design: in-depth semi-structured interviews with CYHC-physicians focused on perceptions on intuition, which were followed by a survey amongst CYHC-practitioners on the recognition and use of the concept. RESULTS: The majority of CYHC-practitioners recognise and use intuition in their daily work, stating that it is necessary in their profession. CYHC-practitioners use intuition to 1) sense that something is 'off', 2) differentiate between 'normal' and 'abnormal', 3) assess risks, 4) weigh secondary information and 5) communicate with parents. At the same time, they warn of its dangers, as it may lead to 'tunnel vision' and false accusations. CONCLUSION: Intuition is experienced as an integral part of the work of CYHC-practitioners. It is understood as particularly useful in cases of child abuse, which are inherently complex, as signs and evidence of abuse are often hidden, subtle and unique in each case. CYHC-practitioners use intuition to manage and navigate this complexity. There is an opportunity for guidelines to support reflection and intuition as a 'good care' practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number157
Number of pages1
JournalBMC Family Practice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020


  • Child abuse
  • Child and youth health care
  • Child protection
  • Decision-making
  • Evidence-based medicine
  • Guidelines
  • Gut feeling
  • Intuition
  • Social work practice


Dive into the research topics of 'Navigating complexity of child abuse through intuition and evidence-based guidelines: a mix-methods study among child and youth healthcare practitioners'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this