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 and foster families. The study is aimed at children who were put in care at responsibility of the government. The committee published their report 'Inadequately protected. Violence in Dutch youth care from 1945 to the present day' on June 12th, 2019.
The committee studied multiple branches in which children stayed under responsibility of the government. This concerns residential institutions, juvenile detention centres, foster care, mental health care institutions, institutions for children with mild intellectual disabilities, boarding schools for deaf and/or blind children, and reception centres for unaccompanied minor foreign nationals.
The study comprises a long period, from 1945 to the present. Three questions were 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.
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.
Summary of findings and recommendations
Physical, psychological and sexual violence has occurred in youth care throughout the period running from 1945 to the present day. Research carried out among a representative panel of the population reveals that nearly one in four of those surveyed were never subjected to a degree of physical or psychological violence in youth care. Around 10% of those surveyed said that they experienced at least one form of violence (physical or psychological, perpetrated by an adult or other children in care) frequently or very frequently. Children experienced less violence in foster care than they did in institutions.
Until 1970, in particular physical violence perpetrated by group leaders and foster parents was a conspicuous phenomenon. After 1970 a shift occurred towards peer-on-peer physical violence and towards psychological violence. For a long time the climate in institutions was perceived to be extremely harsh. More recently, too, the climate in the secure and stricter institutions for youth care has been perceived to be unsafe by both the children and the group leaders. For the most part, those children affected by violence reported psychological violence. This has gone on to affect them adversely later on in life, giving rise to all kinds of negative consequences. These are primarily in the psychological sphere and when it comes to engaging in social and intimate relationships.
Various factors have contributed to incipient and ongoing violence in youth care. For a long time society’s negative view of children taken into care had an unfavourable effect. Youth care in the Netherlands has struggled with chronic underfunding, making it hard to retain staff (group leaders) at institutions and resulting in a lack of educational continuity. It was not until the 1990s that extensive child protection legislation and regulations were introduced, and that sustained efforts were made to bring about more wide-ranging professionalisation of youth care.
This professionalisation is not yet complete. There have been significant deficiencies in terms of monitoring children in institutions and foster families. It was common practice not to intervene in cases of violence. Children were unable to tell someone or did not dare to do so. Children had virtually nobody they could turn to if they were a victim of violence. Monitoring by means of inspections was negligible in the first few decades after the Second World War. The point of departure was for responsibility to rest with the private institutions. The government’s supervisory role was expanded in the 1970s, but in practice the authorities continued to maintain their distance. The research reveals that the government barely responded to indications of violence at all from 1945 onwards, except in the case of major incidents. Many years later the onus is on society and the government to acknowledge that violence did occur in youth care. Violence affected children who ought to have been protected. The committee is making a number of recommendations.
The recommendations of the Committee for the Study on Institutional Child Abuse:
- Acknowledge the plight of victims of violence in youth care
- Keep the committee’s archives accessible and expand them
- Improve the help available to victims of violence in youth care
- As far as possible, avoid placing children in (secure) institutions
- Reduce group size
- Ensure that staff are well trained and that there is educational continuity
- Cooperate more with parents and family
- Improve support for foster parents
- Ensure that family guardians perform their role better
- Ensure better custodial placement in cases where children are taken into care
- Organise more robust, proactive, independent monitoring
- Discuss violence with children in youth care
- Carry out research into prevalence in contemporary youth care