Final report: care system failed to protect Dutch children

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The Samson Committee investigating the abuse of children in state care in the Netherlands since 1945 is accusing the entire system—from the government to the foster care service to care homes themselves—of failing to do enough to protect children against sexual abuse.

In releasing its final report Monday, tellingly titled “Surrounded by care, still not safe”, the Committee said it would send 42 sexual abuse files to public prosecutors for consideration—this out of the 800 claims it received in the two years since it’s been investigating sexual abuse cases of children in care.

“We don’t have any insight into the criteria they used for sending cases to the public prosecutor, but they must have reason to think they can still make cases after all these years,” says Jolien Verweij, spokesperson for the Dutch NGO Defence for Children International. “But any chance to do something is good.”

The Committee, headed by former Procurator-General Rieke Samson, found that out of the 800 claims they received, 65% concerned care homes and 30% foster families, while 5% of claimants said abuse had occurred in both places.

Turning a blind eye
Although originally faulted by the Committee for not being aware of the abuse, officials and caregivers, said the report, lacked the courage and professionalism to do anything about it once they did find out.

“It’s shocking that we as a society can’t organise things for children in a way that they are safe, wherever they are, and that this has been going on for years," says Verweij. “It’s very important to act fast to improve things. Lots of children are still in care.”

Jeugdzorg, the organization that oversees children in care, said of the report: “We are devastated and deeply sorry that children in our care were confronted with sexual abuse.”

The report has several recommendations, including requiring social workers to pay closer attention to children’s sexual development, having authorities act more proactively in cases of suspected abuse and making care institutions carry out more stringent screening of employees.

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Looking to the future
Now that the Samson Committee’s work is done, a new independent committee headed by former deputy prime minister André Rouvoet will look into how to eradicate the sexual abuse of minors and monitor the success of new preventive measures.

High on the national agenda is also promoting an increased awareness of sexuality and sexual norms among both children and professionals—information that may not have been as easy to broach 50 years ago but which it is hoped could help both young and old to recognize what’s appropriate and what isn’t—and when to do something about it.

“It is important the report is there to set the norms and to talk about things,” says Verweij.

Although there are already plans to decentralize the care system—moving it from the national government to the municipalities--Dutch Kinderombudsman Marc Dullaert said Monday that such a move has to go slowly and can only be done when the government can guarantee the safety of children who have been taken from their homes.

“The Samson Committee report reveals that the Dutch government is not meeting its obligations,” said Dullaert, referring to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. That UN treaty obliges state signatories to protect children from violence and abuse—physical, mental and sexual.