Combatting violence against children: what are lessons learnt?

In the context of the 2021 Day of General Discussion of the UN Committee on Rights of the Child, this time dedicated to alternative care, Defence for Children in collaboration with Leiden University has contributed with a paper on the 2019 Dutch Inquiry Committee on Historical Child Abuse in Alternative Care.

This special Committee, Committee De Winter, was appointed by the Dutch government and has collected many facts and experiences about possible violence against children in alternative care from 1945 to the present day. The inquiry is to-date one of the largest investigations into historical child abuse in the world.

This Thursday, the 16th of September, the lessons learnt from national inquiries will be topic of discussion during this international event. The inquiry serves as a good practice in combatting violence against children as is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

75% of children in youth care exposed to violence

One of the main findings of the report is that only one in four children surveyed, was never exposed to any degree of physical or psychological violence in youth care facilities. This finding is sufficient to highlight how often violence takes place in alternative care.

The committee’s research included two methodological approaches. Firstly, documenting and analyzing victims’ and survivors’ experiences of violence via reporting mechanisms through various sector studies (e.g. studies investigating violence in residential care, in foster care, in juvenile justice institutions and in institutions for children with a mental illness). Secondly, recognizing the importance of understanding the root causes for the use of violence taking into account the circumstances including the time period in which the violence took place. The inquiry included a broad group of children in alternative care: children in youth mental health care, institutions for children with hearing or visual impairments and the use of violence against unaccompanied children with a migration background in shelters.

Recommendations

The insights of the inquiry are very valuable. With the contribution of Defence for Children and Leiden University, it is now also being discussed by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. This will push governments to reflect and to commit to (systemic) change in order to eliminate violence against children in alternative care. As a result of the findings, thirteen recommendations have been presented to the Dutch government:

  1. Acknowledge the plight of victims of violence in youth care.
  2. Keep the committee’s archives accessible and expand them.
  3. Improve the help available to victims of violence in youth care.
  4. Placement of children in (secure) institutions as a last resort.
  5. Reduce group size.
  6. Ensure that staff are well trained and that there is educational continuity.
  7. Collaborate more with parents and family.
  8. Improve support for foster parents.
  9. Ensure that family guardians perform their role better.
  10. Ensure better custodial placement in cases where children are taken into care.
  11. Organise more robust, proactive, independent monitoring.
  12. Discuss violence with children in youth care.
  13. Carry out research into prevalence in contemporary youth care.

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