Background Child abuse is a major public health problem which is largely hidden in the society. The main aim was to study child maltreatment from the perspectives of children and young people focusing on prevalence, health, disclosure and support.
Methods Quantitative and qualitative data from three Swedish national surveys of child maltreatment in the years 2000, 2006 and 2011, including children in different age groups and young adults, have been analysed.
Results The results showed that child maltreatment is prevalent and there is a large degree of overlap between maltreatment types. Neglect and witnessing intimate partner violence were the types that overlapped most with other types of maltreatment. Child maltreatment was strongly associated to psychosomatic symptoms and impaired quality of life. Young people who have been victims of child maltreatment described the psychological consequences, such as painful memories, low self-esteem and depression. The psychological abuse was described as particularly detrimental. Victims of sexual abuse expressed feelings of shame and guilt. About half of the severely abused children did not disclose the abuse, mainly because of lack of trust in adults. Many children felt that they did not receive adequate support when they disclosed the maltreatment, particularly because they experienced a lack of child perspective among professionals. Children and young people experienced positive support from the school health services which they considered to have a particularly important role in the detection and support of maltreated children.
Conclusions Child abuse is a complex problem where different types of child abuse largely overlap. It is important to consider this overlap when the health outcomes are studied. Child abuse is also a hidden problem since many children do not disclose the abuse. This requires an increased awareness among professionals to recognise and respond to child maltreatment.
- child maltreatment
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