Development of a Child Abuse Prevalence Survey & Safeguarding Procedure: Mixed Methods Research Findings

Julia Rudolph, Anna McCarthy, Deborah Fry, Rosana Pacella, Claire Monks, Franziska Meinck

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

Abstract / Description of output

Abuse is a crime that can have long-lasting adverse individual, familial, and society-level effects (Browne & Finkelhor, 1986; Finkelhor et al., 2006; Norman et al., 2012). Accurate data is needed in order to monitor trends over time, develop effective prevention strategies, and support survivors of abuse appropriately (World Health Organization, 2006). The Office for National Statistics (ONS) conducted a consultation in 2021 which demonstrated a strong user need for survey data on the prevalence and nature of child abuse in the UK. At the end of 2022, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Greenwich were commissioned to develop the questionnaires and safeguarding procedures for a pilot in 2025/26. This report outlines the methods and findings of the mixed methods research conducted by the University of Edinburgh, through the Department of Social Work and Childlight – Global Child Safety Institute, and by the Institute for Lifecourse Development at the University of Greenwich, to develop a child abuse survey and accompanying safeguarding procedure for the ONS.

The aim of this research, outlined by the ONS in the Statement of Requirement, was to design two questionnaires: one for children aged 11–16 to be conducted in schools, and one for adolescents and young adults aged 16–25 to be completed independently online. This aim evolved over the course of the project to become three questionnaires, as the research called for differences in questions for participants aged 11–15, 16–17, and 18–25 years. These three questionnaires will be facilitated across two modalities: the in-school survey, which will include both the 11–15 questionnaire and the 16–17 questionnaire; and the online survey, which will include both the 16–17 questionnaire and the 18–25 questionnaire. Alongside this, a second aim was to design an appropriate safeguarding procedure for use with the survey, which helps to ensure participants are safe both while they are completing the questionnaire and afterwards, particularly if they seek support.

The project utilised a wide variety of methods. Online Delphi surveys and focus groups were conducted with violence research and child protection professionals. Focus groups were also conducted with adult survivors of childhood abuse. Children and young people aged 11 to 27 participated in both individual and group cognitive interviews, participatory group research sessions, and individual qualitative interviews. Individual consultations were conducted with government departments; prevalence researchers; safeguarding professionals and researchers; educational personnel; ethics board members; special educational and/or support needs (SESN) professionals; and abuse or violence support, prevention, and research organisations.

The outcome of these consultations is three questionnaires and associated safeguarding procedures. One questionnaire is for use in a school setting with children aged 11–16, and the first part of the safeguarding procedure details how to best partner with schools to safeguard children who are completing this survey. The other two questionnaires are for use online with children aged 16–17 and adults aged 18–25, and the remainder of the safeguarding procedure details how to best safeguard participants completing such a survey independently online.
The questionnaire includes both items on violence experiences and non-violence items, such as risk factors, protective factors, and outcomes. The violence items were developed by the Research Team and consulted on extensively via a Delphi survey and focus groups with professionals and adult survivors, before being tested in cognitive interviews with children and young people and further adapted based on their feedback. This included detailed feedback on specific item phrasing, terminology, and formatting of both screening questions for each violence type and follow-up questions on characteristics of violence. Participatory research sessions informed the ordering of the survey topics and the design of the questionnaire in a digital format. The non-violence items recommended for inclusion are existing measurement tools for risk factors and outcomes. Items on protective factors are an exception to this, as the Research Team did not find a suitable existing measure and chose to develop items on protective factors. The phrasing of the questionnaire is intentionally and strategically designed for use with any child in mainstream schooling, including those with SESN. Recommendations are made for operational adaptations which may be required for some pupils.
The safeguarding procedure began as an accompaniment to a partially anonymous or pseudo-anonymous survey, but over the course of the project and in light of feedback from child protection professionals, government departments, and most notably survivors of violence, this changed to a fully anonymous survey recommendation. In order to appropriately protect children and young people completing an anonymous survey, the safeguarding procedure details opt-in support options for participants to access before, during, and after survey completion. In schools, this includes pre-survey information sessions with teachers, parents, and participants; in-person support (in addition to the school’s existing safeguarding personnel); built-in digital options for during-survey support via anonymous chat; and post-survey access to safeguarding web resources, phone calls, and in-person follow-up conversations. Additional safeguarding measures for pupils with SESN are outlined. For the online survey, this includes pre-information when participants log into the survey; built-in digital options for during-survey support via anonymous chat; and post-survey access to safeguarding web resources and phone calls. In order to facilitate these safeguards in the most trauma-informed and appropriate manner, and to ease the burden on schools, the safeguarding procedure includes the recommendation that the ONS partners with a child abuse support organisation.
Original languageEnglish
Commissioning bodyOffice for National Statistics
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2024


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