Children at risk

(ASG 2020-2021)

Why don’t we find children who are harmed? Many professions that work with both children and adults, such as teachers, physicians, social workers and nurses, have an obligation to report suspected child suffering. Despite this, every year children are killed by their parents, or discovered when abuse has been going on for a long time.

This Theme will interview people from various organisations in contact with children who can help illuminate the question of why we don’t find those who suffer harm. We will also discuss the concept of “being harmed”, which is not entirely defined, yet forms the basis for reports of concern for children.

Living in a family where violence occurs affects everyone. Children who witness or are exposed to violence, or threats of violence, are strongly impacted, affecting their development and health. Exposure to violence in childhood increases the risk of mental and physical illness later in life. Children find themselves in many different contexts beyond the family during their upbringing where people in various professions (such as public healthcare, dental care, and school) have an obligation to report their concerns if they suspect that a child is at risk of harm. This creates a is a strong legal protection in place for children, with clear responsibility on the adults. However, since there is no clear definition of the concept of “children who are harmed” connected to that legal obligation to report, there is a resulting uncertainty in practitioners as to what should be reported, and when a report of concern is to be filed. 

“/…/ protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse/…/” from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 19.

When the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child also became Swedish law on 1 January 2020, the legal status of children was also further reinforced in Sweden. Every organisation around the child can file reports of concern, but what those who work in close proximity with the child need from each other to become even better at identifying children at risk early on, is an issue that has not been discussed or studied to any great extent, in a context that brings together both researchers and organisational representatives.

This means that we don’t know with any certainty why we don’t find those children that are at risk, and this is the overarching question on which this Advanced Study Group will be working over the coming year. A complex question requires a complex composition of expertise, the group researchers come from sociology, medicine (paediatrics, dentistry and emergency health care), health sciences, criminology and education, and will base the work around the areas where child wellbeing is a primary concern: social services, healthcare, and school.