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Assessing the feasibility of a survey on child abuse

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Published: January 2021

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) commissioned NatCen to undertake a qualitative feasibility study to understand how a survey on child abuse could be run in future.

Aims

The research focused on the following key areas:

  • the different types of child abuse that should be included in a survey, and how they should be defined;
  • the methods used to collect data, including who should complete a survey;
  • the ethical considerations of collecting information about abuse from children;
  • the support that should be put in place to help children during and after they have taken part in a survey; and
  • how best to ensure children can accurately recall experiences and answer truthfully.

Key findings

  • Participants understood that a survey on experiences of child abuse completed by children would have societal and individual benefits.
  • Key concerns in delivering a survey of this nature included: the importance of offering children the choice to participate; ensuring the survey could be appropriately tailored; issues relating to privacy and confidentiality (and the extent to which this could be accommodated) and ensuring children had appropriate access to support when needed.
  • Minimising the risk that children would be negatively impacted by a survey process was a key theme. Included in this were concerns that children might be put at risk with adult or peer perpetrators of abuse who would know the survey; being singled out at school for not participating; and having concerns ignited by discussion of abuse.

Four key areas were highlighted as requiring further exploration before piloting a survey on abuse with children. They included:

  • considering how to make a survey accessible for children of different ages and children with SEND;
  • agreeing an appropriate age range for inclusion and navigating practical and legal issues around consent for those aged 12 and below; 
  • giving further thought to the provision of support, who delivers it and how children can best access it, depending on their individual needs; and
  • further consideration of how a survey might be embedded within schools’ existing Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) programmes.

The project highlighted a range of practical challenges in recruiting and involving victims/survivors of child abuse and their families in research, particularly when using opt-in, gatekeeper-led approaches. Considerations for future research in this complex and sensitive area include widening recruitment approaches, consulting with organisations working directly with victims/survivors of abuse to recruit eligible participants early in the process and exploring ways of supporting gatekeeper organisations (through a financial incentive or honorarium, for example).

Methods

The project comprised two phases of qualitative data collection; phase one collected data from practitioners, and phase two collected data from children and parents. The study was planned this way to ensure that learning from phase one with practitioners could be incorporated into the more sensitive data collection with children and victims/survivors. In total we carried out 13 depth interviews and two focus groups.

This research was commissioned by ONS as part of a wider project exploring the feasibility of a survey measuring child abuse in the UK. Read more about this here.

To inform decision making, ONS launched a public consultation on 21 January 2021 to invite feedback from anyone with an interest in child protection and child protection policy. Read more about this here