Child abuse

Scientific research makes a valuable contribution to efforts to improve the way child abuse is tackled. This is important, as the abuse of a child has profound consequences, even in later life. We therefore support professionals by providing knowledge to help them when they encounter child abuse in their daily work.

Knowledge about child abuse for the entire system

Knowledge is developed in ZonMw programmes to help prevent, identify and put a stop to child abuse, and to treat the effects. This knowledge is developed for the entire system, from birth care to education, from accident and emergency care to trauma therapy, and from community teams to the forensic sector. See an overview of all our projects here.

What is child abuse?

Child abuse refers to any form of abuse that is intimidating to a child. Besides physical and sexual abuse, this also includes emotional abuse and any form of neglect, emotional or otherwise.

Preventing child abuse

Any professional who works with children, young people or parents can potentially help to prevent child abuse. Several studies and effective interventions offer support with this.

Understanding the risk factors and effectiveness of interventions

Understanding the risk factors in child abuse and the effectiveness of interventions can help prevent it. A large consortium project has conducted a lot of research in this area. It has found, for example, that existing home visit programmes do not make sufficient use of measures that have been found to be effective, such as spending ‘quality time’ with the child, and expanding the social network. Giving video-based feedback has also proved highly effective, but is by no means always included in interventions.

Information at school

The consortium project also studied the effects of providing information about child abuse at primary school. This study found that children regard these programmes as important in preventing abuse. It is for example important that children learn that abuse or assault is never their fault. The next step is to use this knowledge in practice, by giving professionals better training on child abuse, for example. And by using school programmes, monitoring their effects and introducing further improvements on this basis.

Discussing the downside of parenting

It is not easy for professionals to discuss potentially unsafe situations with parents. The C4Youth collaborative knowledge centre has developed a workshop entitled ‘Discussing the downside of parenting’ for organisations that are obliged to report suspected cases of domestic violence and child abuse. It provides guidance on how to conduct the discussion from the perspective of parents.

Supporting pregnant people in vulnerable situations

A number of interventions have been launched to help reduce child abuse, or the risk of child abuse. One well-studied intervention is VoorZorg, which was specially developed for young mothers-to-be in vulnerable situations with multiple risk factors.

Identifying child abuse and raising the alarm

In cases of child abuse, it is important that it is recognised and reported. ZonMw therefore promotes research into the development, reliability and implementation of screening and alert mechanisms.


The Childcheck has for example been developed and tested for reliability on the basis of research, and its implementation in various settings has been encouraged. The Childcheck is part of the domestic violence and child abuse protocol.

Working with parents under the protocol

The revised domestic violence and child abuse protocol gives professionals the opportunity to report their suspicions earlier. This is happening on only a small scale, however. Teachers, for example find it too difficult to discuss their suspicions for fear of damaging the relationship of trust. The ‘Working with parents under the protocol’ learning studio developed by the Noord-Holland Regional Collaborative Knowledge Centre  looks at how the protocol can be used as an empowerment tool rather than as a way of pointing the finger.

Alert mechanisms for specific settings

Mechanisms are also being development and implemented for specific settings, such as the implementation of a national child abuse alert mechanism for Dutch hospitals (NSK), and a study of the validity and reliability of the Actuarial Risk Assessment Mechanism for Youth Protection (ARIJ). Mechanisms are also being developed to raise the alarm in the event of child abuse during pregnancy and in youth healthcare.

Talking to children about abuse

Taking someone into your confidence about the abuse you have suffered is also referred to as disclosure. It is not easy for children to talk about these experiences, so it is important that the child trusts the person they are talking to. Research has for example been conducted into providing information about child abuse at primary school and the competences teachers need to deal with disclosure of child abuse.

Putting a stop to child abuse and treating the effects

If child abuse is found to be taking place, it is important to put a stop to it, to treat the trauma it has caused, and to prevent any repetition. Various studies funded by ZonMw consider these elements of child abuse response. Several treatment methods have for example been studied, including EMDR, and also trauma treatments based on a ‘whole-system approach’, such as Integrative Team Treatment for Attachment Trauma in Children (IGT-K), NIKA and FITT.

Working together to tackle child abuse

What works when it comes to collaboration on the issue of domestic violence and child abuse? The Rotterdam Rijnmond and Gooi en Vechtstreek regions have identified what conditions must be met, and what effective collaboration means in practice.


A multidisciplinary approach to child abuse is becoming increasingly common. It has been the standard in Friesland for a long time. A study of MDA++ Friesland found that the frequency of child abuse and domestic violence decreased during the 12 months that MDA++ was used, and that children’s emotional safety was enhanced.

Growing up safely, at home

Vulnerable children growing up in an unsafe home situation must receive appropriate help as quickly as possible, together with their parents. The different problems require different kinds of expertise, offered in an integrated way. The C4Youth collaborative research and learning centre is working on a comprehensive approach.


In ‘high-conflict divorce’, separation is followed by years of conflict between parents, and all sight of the interests and welfare of their children is lost. This may have implications for the child, including stress, loyalty issues and loss of contact with a parent. Programmes exist to help prevent a divorce from becoming so complex, and to provide help if it does. These includes the  DivorceATLAS training course, which helps parents planning to divorce or already divorced to redefine their parenting role in their new situation


ZonMw works with the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, the Ministry of Justice and Security, the WODC research and documentation centre, the Dutch Centre for Child Heatlh Services (NCJ), the Netherlands Youth Institute (NJi) and Augeo.



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