Child abuse stats are blind on family type

Family type is a significant risk factor in child abuse yet Government number crunchers refuse to collect data on it, leading to accusations that they are burying the truth.

Studies repeatedly show that a child is at greater risk of abuse in a broken home compared to a child living with two married parents.

The risk is particularly high in a home where a single mother is sharing the home with a boyfriend – as was the case in the recent Baby P tragedy.

This was demonstrated by a report called “Broken Homes and Battered Children”, looking at the relationship between child abuse and family type.

One study quoted in the report showed that the incidence of child abuse was 20 times higher for children living with their non-married cohabiting parents compared to children living with their married parents. The figure was 33 times higher among children living with their mother and her boyfriend.

But the report dates from the 1990s and it is almost impossible to find accurate up-to-date UK figures on child abuse by family type. Why? Because the Government does not collect or publish the data.

The Christian Institute has contacted the relevant Government department, asking why this is the case. We have yet to receive an explanation.

Statistics on child abuse were collected by the NSPCC up until the 1990s. It did publish figures by family type, to an extent, but grouped unmarried parents together with those that were married.

It is understood that the NSPCC struggled to get quality data from social work departments. Forms would be returned only partially complete, often with family information conspicuously missing.

The Department of Health took over the job of collecting child abuse statistics in the early 1990s. The work was subsequently passed to the education department.

The latest figures can be examined by age, sex, type of abuse, local authority area, – even ethnicity. But not by family type.

A UNICEF report from 2003 looked in part at figures from Australia, Canada and the United States. It found that children living with a single parent (of either sex) were at double the risk of abuse compared to two-parent families.

The report’s authors were falling over themselves to explain away the link. They say the risk does not lie in the fact of single parenthood, but in the “combination of low income, stress and social isolation which frequently accompany single parent status”, which is a bit like saying smoking doesn’t harm you, lung cancer does.

In May this year antipodean newspaper, The Australian, reported that “Children with a step-parent or no biological parent are significantly more at risk than those with a single parent or both biological parents.

“An Australian study of more than 900 coronial inquiries into child deaths from violence or accident appears to bear out theories of the so-called Cinderella effect.

“Psychologist and researcher at Melbourne’s Deakin University Greg Tooley said that despite sensitivities over the issue, the findings should not be ignored and child-welfare agencies needed to take it into account when assessing at-risk cases.”

The article continued: “Dr Tooley’s study found that children with a step-parent were at least 17 times more likely to die from intentional violence or accident. A limited version of the study found that the rate could be as high as 77 times.

“It found the risk was higher if there were no biological parents, such children being at least 22 times more prone. Most at risk were children under five.”

Commenting on the article in her Spectator blog, respected British journalist Melanie Phillips called it a “buried truth”, saying it was a story you wouldn’t see reported by the British media.

She wrote: “Very similar findings were reported in Britain some two decades ago. The evidence that shattered or reconstituted families pose vastly greater risks to children than traditional two-parent families has always been overwhelming.

“But in Britain, the government simply stopped collecting statistics that broke down families by type which enabled researchers to compare violence and other ill-effects in different types of household. This blurred the distinction between parents and parent-substitutes, and enabled the lie to be told that children were in more danger from their parents than from strangers.

“The truth is that natural parents provide the greatest safety for children, and it is the reconstituted family which poses the greatest danger. The deliberate concealment of that truth has been used to justify the breakdown of family life whose catastrophic ill-effects are only now beginning to be acknowledged.”

Surely no stone should be left unturned in a search for information which may prevent child abuse. Or is it too inconvenient to reveal the truth: that marriage really is the safest and best setting for raising children.