Complexities of child abuse explored in new local study

The data gathered is being used to recommend new policies and practice.

After a previous study conducted by the University of Malta’s Faculty for Social Wellbeing reported a staggering 587 cases of physical child abuse in 2021 alone, a new analysis of the complexities of the issue and their effects on Maltese society through the lens of empirical data was conducted by the same Faculty.

Titled ‘Protecting our Children: Exploring and Preventing Child Abuse’, this newly-conducted research project was led by Roberta Attard, Head of the Department of Counselling within the Faculty for Social Wellbeing with the management of Dean Andrew Azzopardi, the assistance of Research Support Officers, Graziella Vella and Olga Formosa, and sponsored by Bank of Valletta.

Findings were presented at the University of Malta Main Campus in Msida in the presence of the University Rector, the Bank of Valletta Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, and other industry stakeholders.

The main objectives of the study were to explore how convicted child abusers are rehabilitated, if at all, and what treatment they are given; to identify the average length of the process through which underage children are removed from an abusive situation; to explore actions to be taken to keep children safe online and examine the nature of the online experience for children; and to ultimately provide policy action recommendations on the issues and concerns that emerge from the findings.

These objectives were attained through a number of methods, namely a literature review that detailed the issues and dangers related to child abuse, around 10 to 15 one-to-one interviews with social workers and therapists who have worked with perpetrators on a first-hand basis, a number of focus groups with adults who have experienced child abuse in their childhood in order to map the progression of the abuse, an anonymous online questionnaire that was sent through the schools, a focus group with children who are part of entities such as the Commissioner for Children, Scouts, and the Malta Trust Foundations, and focus groups with experts in the field.

All the data gathered was then analysed with the help of experts and NGOs in order to formulate and provide the recommendations for policy and practice.

Talking about the relevance of this particular research project, Roberta Attard told Newspoint that “the maltreatment of children is a global risk factor for mental health. The belief that child maltreatment only occurs within low-income family units is mistaken, and this study emphasises that child abuse unfortunately transcends social class. It also stresses on the fact that despite there being services available for help with these cases, the victims do not always manage to request such help, or they do so many years after the abuse would’ve started.”

Andrew Azzopardi, who was the project manager for this study and who also formed part of the Technical Advisory Committee, said: “the overarching goal of such a study was to bring out more of the correlations of child abuse to other factors such as satisfaction with life, financial security and so on. We are challenging commonly-held assumptions and making useful recommendations for policymakers to be more assertive in proposing strategies that ultimately enforce children’s rights”.

University of Malta Rector Alfred J. Vella concluded by saying the University is civic in its effort to educate and conduct research that is rooted in local issues, or what he called context-based research.

More information about this research project, as well as its findings, are available online.

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