Friday 15 January 2021

More children did face emotional neglect during first lockdown: research

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More children were victims of physical and mental abuse during the first lockdown earlier last year, with most of the increase down to emotional neglect, according to Leiden University researchers.

Researchers with the Institute of Pedagogical Sciences estimate some 40,000 children experienced some form of abuse in the early days of the pandemic, mainly in terms of neglect of education or witnessing domestic violence.

Children who were already on social services’ radar were most at risk, the researchers said. Experts said at the time the decision to close schools and confine children to their homes would lead to an increase in abuse cases.

In April, a hotline which children can ring if they are worried or victims of physical and sexual abuse reported a sharp rise in calls since the Netherlands had brought in tough measures on social distancing and closed schools.

In addition, a survey of 1,028 school heads showed that 75% of primary school chiefs are worried about the impact of the closures on vulnerable children without motivated parents to help them.

Suspicions

The research is based on information provided by people working in childcare and education, who were asked to report on their suspicions. Based on those reports, the researchers estimate 14 in 1,000, or 40,000, children experienced abuse during the first three-month lockdown. In the same period in 2017, the informants reported nearly 15,000 possible cases.

Most of the increase is due to suspicions that children were facing emotional neglect and only 8.6% of cases were new to the authorities. In 50% of cases, the neglect appeared to have worsened during the lockdown, the researchers said.

Children from families with low-skilled parents were 10 times more likely to face abuse, while unemployment increased the risk three-fold. Family size was also an issue.

‘The results show that the closure of schools and childcare can have profound implications for vulnerable families,’ the researchers said.

Dutch schools were closed again in December and will not open until January 18 at least.

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