Policies and Responses with Regard to Child Abuse and Neglect in England, Germany and the Netherlands: A Comparative Multi-Site Study

The HESTIA project aims to discover the nature and impact of variations in child protection systems through a comparison of three quite different welfare states (England, Germany, the Netherlands). It includes a comparative analysis of child protection policy and empirical studies of child protection practice. Findings from the policy analysis will underpin the empirical phase, which will compare (i) state responses to child maltreatment notifications and (ii) parent perspectives on professional intervention in different welfare states. We will compare:

  • the ways child protection measures are negotiated, legitimized and perceived (by professionals and parents)
  • their impact on children (e.g. protection/re-abuse; removal from home)
  • the relationship between national policy, thresholds for intervention and social justice
  • rhetoric in child protection policy and practice, locating this within the wider child welfare policy framework in each country

The study will also compare wider assumptions about the role of the state in family life, (including those regarding the rights of parents) and the ways different welfare states seek to balance children’s rights to protection (under the UNCRC) and parents’ rights to family life (under the Human Rights Act). Through this comparative analysis, the HESTIA project will generate new insights into child protection policy and practice and so have a significant impact on future developments in child welfare in Europe. Relevant Norface themes: Future politics of the welfare state, Inequalities, diversity and the welfare state and People and the welfare state. Prof Grietens will be responsible for overall project management and all other WPs will be co-ordinated a nominated team member.

Project Summary

In the Hestia project, the child protection systems of three European countries were compared: England, Germany and the Netherlands. These three countries have quite different welfare systems with long traditions of child protection. In Hestia we made an in-depth comparison of the nature of these countries’ systems and studied the impact of variations in nature on the practice of child maltreatment investigations.

The child protection systems of England, Germany and the Netherlands were compared at three different levels: policy, practice and impact on parents who were involved in a child maltreatment investigation. To study child protection policies, use was made of a framework based on scientific literature. To study the practice of child protection, in particular the investigations following a report of maltreatment, we designed a case file study. A coding scheme was developed by the researchers and tested in each country. What we coded were case files, in particular the different steps in the investigation process as documented, from report to decision. We randomly selected 400 cases per country of reports made to the child protection services between March 2013 and October 2016. To study the impact of child maltreatment investigations on parents, we designed an interview study,  allowing parents to bring their personal story and talk about the background to the report, the investigation process, the decision and their relationship with the professionals. We searched first for specific themes in each country reflecting parents’ experiences and views and then for overall themes.

The policy analyses revealed that the three countries have quite different child protection systems, in terms of aims, traditions, laws and organization. However, scientific research on child maltreatment and European and international regulations like the Children’s Rights Convention make that systems are converging. The cross-country comparison of the case file analyses showed some interesting differences between the countries. Most striking was that England had more reports on physical and sexual abuse than the Netherlands and Germany and that child protection professionals in the Netherlands were having fewer contacts with children, compared to the other countries. The interviews revealed that parents’ experiences with the child protection system were quite similar across the three countries. Parents were stressing the importance of certain elements in the investigation (in particular the relational dimension and the power issue) and the importance of the focus (child vs. parent-oriented) professionals were taking during the investigation.

The Hestia project showed how deeply child protection systems differ across countries and how this impacts practice of child maltreatment investigations and partly also the experiences and views of clients. The results of this unique project are relevant both for policy makers and professionals and the overall design of the project may become a template for researchers in Europe and abroad conducting comparative studies in the field of child protection.