Background: As many countries lack (multi-sectoral) data on the epidemiology of agency responses to child maltreatment, they do not know if children in different regions of the country have equal chances to receive help and protection. The Optimus Study, the first nationally representative Swiss study on multi-sectoral responses to child maltreatment, examines gaps in identifying children in need and reveals opportunities for improved support and protection.
Methods: A stratified sample of 351 agencies (participation rate 81 %) in the social and health sector, public child protection, and the penal sector provided data on new cases between September 1 and November 30, 2016. The resulting study data on 7651 cases included information on the maltreatment incident, specifics of the report/referral, and child characteristics. The weighting procedure to produce national estimates was based on inverse sampling probabilities and inverse response rates.
Results: In the 3-month period, an estimated 10,335 cases were referred/reported to agencies in multiple sectors of the child protection system in Switzerland. This corresponded to 66 cases per 10,000 children. Rates were highest for adolescents (aged 13+), with 69 cases per 10,000 children. Lower rates for school-aged children coincided with a relatively low percentage of reports/referrals from the schools (8 %). Regional variance was extensive, with rates more than quadrupling from a low of 26 cases to a high of 107 cases per 10,000 children. Types of child maltreatment handled by agencies in the different sectors varied. Gender distribution was lopsided for sexual abuse, with many more girls experiencing incidents of sexual abuse, and unequal for incidents of neglect and psychological maltreatment.
Conclusions: There are gaps in the identification of maltreated preschoolers. Promoting health checkups for this age group is a potential solution. However, school-aged children up to age 11 are underreported as well, as the schools contribute only marginally to child maltreatment reporting. The findings of the study are being used to initiate the implementation of continuous and multi-sectoral child maltreatment surveillance in Switzerland.
Keywords: Administrative data; Child maltreatment; Incidence; Knowledge mobilization.
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