One In Five Adults Experienced Abuse Before Age 16

The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) has released the “Child abuse extent and nature, England and Wales: year ending March 2019” report. The report brings together a range of different sources from across the voluntary sector and the Government.

With no formal definition of ‘child abuse’ in law, a definition has been established instead from various laws designed to protect children from harm and codified in the ‘Working together to safeguard children’ report in 2018.

“A form of maltreatment of a child. Somebody may abuse or neglect a child by inflicting harm, or by failing to act to prevent harm. Children may be abused in a family or in an institutional or community setting by those known to them or, more rarely, by others. Abuse can take place wholly online, or technology may be used to facilitate offline abuse. Children may be abused by an adult or adults, or another child or children”.

CSEW have estimated that approximately 8.5 million adults, over 20% of the population, have experienced abuse before the age of 16.

The most common form of abuse listed was the witnessing of domestic violence, abuse followed by emotional abuse.

There were around four in 10 adults reporting that they had suffered more than one type of abuse by the age of 16, the proportion was higher in women, with 46% of women suffering abuse compared to 41% of men. It was also found that bisexual adults were the most likely to have experienced abuse before the age of 16

The report has highlighted the number of adults that had suffered abuse as a child but as yet, there has been no means to estimate the level of child abuse currently being experienced by children.

Currently, children who are brought to the attention of the local authority as being in need of support due to abuse or negligence, will have an assessment to identify whether “there is reasonable cause to suspect the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm” under section 47 of the Children Act 1989.

Following the assessment, if it is determined that further action is need, the child may be subject to a Child Protection Plan in England (CPP) or placed on the Child Protection Register in Wales (CPR).

On 31st March 2019 it was found that over 52,000 children were subject to a CPP, an increase of 21% since March 2013, despite a drop of 3% on 2018. A further 2,820 children were on the CPR in Wales, a drop of 5% on the previous year.

There are also some children who become “children looked-after”; children who have come under the care of local authorities. On the 31st March 2019 there were 49,570 children looked-after due to neglect or abuse, over one third of the told children looked-after in England. Wales has similar rates with a further 4,810 children looked-after.

The number of children looked-after has increased year on year (with the exception of a decrease in 2016) since 2010, with an increase of 4% in the last year alone.

It is a sobering thought that the true extent of child abuse and neglect in England and Wales is not known; many cases are hidden either due to the child not disclosing the information, local authorities not recognising the abuse or neglect, or the actual figures being masked by the fact of child abuse having no formal definition in law.

Around one in seven adults who have called the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) had disclosed that they had not told anyone about their abuse before, again supporting the fact that many cases will not be picked up by local authorities and help given.

In 2019, Childline reported they had delivered almost 20,000 counselling sessions to children where abuse or neglect was the primary concern, of which only 847 abuse related referrals were made on behalf of the children, an increased by 31% in the last year.

With the low number of referrals from Childline, it may be that children are not wanting to take the contact further than counselling.

It was a stark comparison to the referrals to an external agency made by the NSPCC after abuse-related contacts. In 2019, 55% of the 44,025 abuse-related contacts were referred.

The NAPAC has indicated that support is required by adult survivors in later life, especially as around half of adults who experienced abuse as a child, also experienced domestic abuse later in life, compared to 13% of adults who did not experience domestic abused in childhood.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists states:

“As adults, children who have witnessed violence and abuse are more likely to become involved in a violent and abusive relationship themselves. Children tend to copy the behaviour of their parents. Boys learn from their fathers to be violent to women. Girls learn from their mothers that violence is to be expected, and something you just have to put up with.

“However, children don’t always repeat the same pattern when they grow up. Many children don’t like what they see, and try very hard not to make the same mistakes as their parents. Even so, children from violent and abusive families may grow up feeling anxious and depressed, and find it difficult to get on with other people.”

With the experiences of abuse from childhood causing long term psychological and social harm, what more can be done to decrease the extent to which children are suffering domestic abuse and violence?

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