About the committee
On November 7, 2016, the Dutch cabinet installed the Committee for the Study on Institutional Child Abuse, to conduct research on physical, psychological and sexual violence in youth care institutions or foster families. The study is aimed at children who were put in care at responsibility of the government. The committee will report its findings in early June 2019. The Committee consists of a multidisciplinary team under the leadership of professor Micha de Winter.
The study comprises a long period, from 1945 to the present. Three questions are at its centre:
- What physical, psychological and sexual violence took place in youth care institutions?
- How could this happen and what contextual factors played a role?
- How did the children experience the violence and what impact has it had on their lives?
The answers to these questions contribute to a scientific overview of what violence against children has taken place in youth care in the past 70 years. Furthermore, the committee hopes that this research can provide victims with a sense of recognition for what they went through during their childhood.
How does the committee conduct its research?
The committee has conducted research into archives of all relevant youth care institutions in the Netherlands. Furthermore, interviews have been held and standardised questionnaires have been filled in by individuals who stayed at the institutions as children. Former employees at these institutions were also interviewed or asked to complete a questionnaire. Finally, the committee has carried out a literature review, studied published complaints (‘black books’) and other relevant documents and looked at what instances of violence against children in care had been reported by the media.
What research does the committee perform?
The committee’s study comprises multiple branches in which children stay under responsibility of the government. This concerns children in residential institutions, juvenile detention centres, foster care, the youth sector of the Dutch Association of Mental Health and Addiction Care (jeugd-GGZ), institutions for children with (mild) intellectual disabilities, boarding schools for deaf and/or blind children, and unaccompanied minors in refugee centres. In each of these sector studies, special attention is paid to the nature of the violence, the context and the effects of the violence on the lives of the victims. This involves research questions such as: What happened and how could this happen? Did the responsible people and institutions react and if so, what was that reaction like? And: how did the lives of the people involved continue?
In addition to the sector studies, the research includes several cross-sectional studies. Among these is a quantitative study on the extent of violence against children in care. For this part, the committee has made use of an existing public opinion poll (Kantar Public). Moreover, there are a few thematic studies, for instance about supervision, inspection, professionalisation and regulation.
Exploration of support offered to victims
At the request of the cabinet, the committee has also investigated whether the support that is currently offered to adults who had been abused is sufficient. This happened through conversations with both victims and professionals, focus groups with specific victim groups and consultations with expert panels.
The committee’s registration centre
The committee has set up a registration centre, where victims and (former) employees could share their experiences over telephone, e-mail, post or other digital means. Its first and foremost aim was to lend the informers an ear. The victims’ experiences could also be anonymously reported for analysis. The knowledge obtained from the victims has become a key source for the inquiry. In some cases, committee members and researchers have followed up with the informants for a face-to-face conversation. As of December 2018, 900 people have come forward to the committee. As of January 2019 the registration centre is closed and no longer receives new reports.
Prior similar studies
From 2010 to 2011, the Deetman Committee looked into sexual abuse of minors in the Roman Catholic Church from 1945 to 2010. It presented its final report on December 16, 2011. The former committee put forward a number of important recommendations, for example in relation to victim assistance. It vowed to periodically monitor the execution of the recommendations by those responsible. The committee upheld its promise until its dissolution in July 2016.
The Samson Committee was established by the Dutch government in 2010 to study sexual abuse of children in care. On October 8, 2012 the committee published its final report, titled "Surrounded by care, yet not safe. Sexual abuse against children placed out-of-home by the government, 1945 – present". The Samson Committee made several recommendations in this report which have informed the research of this current committee, Committee De Winter.