More victims of child abuse during lockdown
The number of victims of child abuse is estimated to be higher during the first lockdown compared with a period without a lockdown. This is mainly due to an increase in the number of victims of emotional neglect, including educational neglect and witnessing domestic abuse. Families with children about whom there were already concerns appear to be particularly vulnerable.
The Institute of Pedagogical Sciences conducted research into possible changes in children’s (unsafe) home situations during lockdown. Although measures were needed to prevent the spread of coronavirus, there were concerns that these measures would lead to unsafe home situations in some families.
The research used the methodology of the National Prevalence Studies of Child and Adolescent Maltreatment (NPM). Professionals working in childcare and education were asked to participate as informants in the study and to report any suspicions of child abuse.
Estimate significantly higher during lockdown
On the basis of the informant reports, it was estimated that almost 40,000 children, or 14 children per 1,000, experienced maltreatment during the first lockdown in the Netherlands. The estimate during the lockdown is significantly higher than the estimate over a period of three months without lockdown, as reported by the same groups of informants in 2017. This estimate was almost 15,000 children. When the occurrence of different types of maltreatment during the lockdown is compared with data from the NPM from 2017, there only appears to be a significant increase for emotional neglect – particularly educational neglect and witnessing domestic violence.
Only 8.6% of the reported suspicions were suspicions that arose during the lockdown. Half of the suspicions had already existed before the lockdown but worsened during the lockdown.
Family factors as risk factors for child abuse
Different family factors were found to be a significant risk factor for child abuse. A low level of education meant a greater than ten times higher risk of child abuse. In unemployed families the risk was over three times higher than in non-unemployed families. A migration background did not appear to be a risk factor for child abuse during the lockdown. Nor did one-parent or stepfamilies present a higher risk of child abuse. Family size only appeared to be a risk for families with four or more children. The risk of maltreatment in these families was over twice as high as in smaller families. The risk of maltreatment did not differ for boys and girls or for children of different ages.
The results make it clear that closing schools and childcare can have far-reaching implications for vulnerable families.