Child protection: considerable differences between the Netherlands, the UK and Germany

13 November 2019

International research has revealed that the child protection system in the Netherlands is complex, there is relatively little contact with the children in question, and what will happen with the children remains unclear for a long time. Sexual abuse is reported relatively little. However, there is intensive help for families, and fewer children are placed outside of the home.

Hestia project

Hans Grietens (Professor of Child Welfare at the University of Groningen) lead a group researchers in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Germany who compared the approach to child abuse and neglect in these countries. When the research started in 2015, the Netherlands had just revised its youth care system. From that moment onwards, youth care became the responsibility of municipalities, and there was 15 percent less budget.

Difficult to explain

Even before the system change, the system in the Netherlands was ‘in all honesty quite complex’ according to Grietens. ‘There is the national Child Care and Protection Board and the regionally organised domestic abuse hotline Veilig Thuis, who do not operate in the same way. All of that is difficult to explain to a German.’

The researchers compared laws, policy and the approach to child abuse and neglect. They studied 400 cases per country and interviewed professionals, children and parents who had been involved in the investigations after reports of child abuse.

Less contact with the children

In the Netherlands, there is less contact with the children involved than the Dutch law prescribes, and than professionals think. Grietens: ‘You need to prevent a child from having to tell his or her story too often, but it is definitely not good that care providers and juvenile judges in the Netherlands sometimes fail to talk to the child at all. For example, they only speak with the parents and the school. In the United Kingdom, people make considerable efforts to talk to young or highly traumatised children too, and in Germany, children also feel their interests are heard. In the Netherlands, the lack of involvement with the children is most often due to a lack of time.’

In the United Kingdom, what happened is quickly investigated following a report of abuse and a decision is taken about the future of the child: will it be placed in a foster family or could it even be adopted? ‘The advantage of that approach is that the child quickly knows where it is at: in the Netherlands, it can remain unclear for a long time whether a child will continue to live at home or not’, says Grietens.

Sensitive for Nazi past

In the Netherlands, fewer children are placed out of the home than is the case in Germany. Grietens: ‘There is an emphasis on family life, and in the Netherlands, we invest a lot in supervising families with educational training programmes.’ Germany can learn from that, but interventions in the private sphere are sensitive there due to the past. ‘In both the Nazi and Stasi periods, the government seriously failed. Therefore everything has to be done more cautiously now.’

Sexual abuse is reported less often in the Netherlands than in the United Kingdom and Germany even though there is nothing to indicate that it happens less frequently. Grietens: ‘The Child Care and Protection Board is shocked by the findings and can now set to work on these.’

More information

Hans Grietens is Professor of Child Welfare at the University of Groningen.

Source: NWO