Three quarters of children who grow up in a family where child abuse takes place also become more violent themselves. As teenagers, many of these children also experience violence within their relationships. According to the Verwey-Jonker Institute, much more attention should be paid to children who grow up in unsafe family situations.
The institute draws these conclusions on the basis of a multi-year study in which more than eight hundred households known to Safe at Home organizations were followed for a year.
Both violence between partners and child abuse have a huge impact on the behavior of children, says the Verwey-Jonker Institute. Many of them are violent towards their parent(s), both physically and psychologically.
Nearly a hundred young people aged 14 or older completed a questionnaire about their love lives. Of the 41 young people who were in a relationship of more than a month, 25 indicated that they had experienced violence, with an average of almost six incidents. Sometimes the young people were perpetrators, sometimes victims, often both.
Circle of violence
Majone Steketee, scientific director of the Verwey-Jonker Institute, speaks of a ‘circle of violence’. To break that circle, she believes, more needs to be done in many families than is currently the case. “You see two problems. Firstly, emergency responders immediately go into action mode. They do not take the time to make a proper analysis of the precise problems in a family, which are often very complex. Secondly, care providers also find it difficult to talk about the violence itself in a family. Parents often don’t dare to do that either. While talking about it is very important to stop the violence.”
This is the third time that the Verwey-Jonker Institute has conducted such a study. According to Steketee, the first time, in 2014, it turned out that tackling domestic violence and child abuse was disappointingly ineffective. Things are getting better now, she says.
One in five families manages to stop violence within a year. This is especially the case if the problems are not too complex and not ‘chronic’. If the violence has lasted for a long time, intervention is much more difficult. According to Steketee, this also applies if there is problematic alcohol use. “It appears that addiction care is hardly used for these types of families. There is also room for improvement there.”
Better knowledge among care providers can ensure that more families and households can be helped successfully, the researchers believe. A good analysis can, for example, lead to the conclusion that there is what Steketee calls ‘intimate terror’ in a house. This is a relationship in which one of the two partners exercises a lot of control and coercion, with an average number of violent incidents. Intimate terror occurs in one in three couples and a quarter of families who report to Veilig Thuis, the advice and reporting center for domestic violence, child abuse and elder abuse.
“A very specific approach is needed for this type of violence. For example, you have to talk to the family members separately, otherwise they will not dare to tell you what is going on. You have to provide safety, ensure that victims are protected. These are the households in which femicide (murder of women, ed.) occurs. You want to avoid that at all costs.”
One in three children who grow up in a family where violence occurs will repeat themselves as an adult, Steketee knows. “That is yet another reason for the government to invest sufficiently in assistance. You can cut back on youth care, but in the end you will always get that back like a boomerang. Many children become victims of this. It is better to invest a lot and tackle problems very well now. You will benefit from this in the future.”
The government will make cuts in youth care in the coming years, although those cuts were softened earlier this year. The costs have grown in recent years to almost 6 billion euros per year. In some cities, one in seven children receives help, even for less serious problems such as sleeping problems and dyslexia. This is partly why the system crashes.
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