Exploring the feasibility of a survey on child abuse

ONS commissioned this feasibility study to understand whether and how a survey on child abuse could be run in future.
Download PDF
Boy sitting alone in front of a wall

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) commissioned NatCen to undertake a second qualitative feasibility study to understand whether and how a survey on child abuse could be run in future.

The research builds on earlier work completed in 2021.


A key aim of the research was to explore the perspectives on the proposed new survey of young people who had experienced abuse and their parents/guardians. It also sought to explore areas identified by ONS for further investigation: inclusion of particular groups; whether and how data could best be collected; safeguarding considerations and provision; and willingness to participate.


Qualitative methods were used to gather the views of four key participant groups: young adults with experience of abuse in childhood; parents whose children experienced abuse in childhood; senior staff from a range of secondary schools and sixth form settings; and child protection leads working in children’s social care. Overall, 37 people took part in a total of 21 depth interviews and focus groups.

Key findings

  • Willingness to be involved was influenced by individuals’ understanding of the need for a survey, anticipated outcomes, and the survey design – including the sample scope; choice and flexibility for respondents and survey settings; support provision; and disclosure requirements and processes.
  • Young people’s ability and willingness to respond honestly to questions about abuse would be influenced by the level of detail they would be asked to provide and the degree of privacy offered during and after completion of the survey. Providing clear advance information about the purpose and parameters of the survey, and maximising respondent choice and control, would be important.
  • Views on whether and how young people with special educational needs and disabilities could be included in the survey were mixed. One view was that eligibility should be linked to comprehension, with advance assessment or screening processes. Participants suggested that a tailored version of the survey would be needed to make it accessible, and that individual support from a trusted adult would enable more children with communication difficulties to take part.
  • Three key challenges were discussed in relation to inclusion of home-schooled children, relating to sampling, access, and support needs.
  • Participants’ views on what would constitute appropriate safeguarding and how it would best be carried out were mixed. Disclosure of responses for safeguarding purposes was anticipated to have a detrimental impact on young people’s willingness to report abuse they had not previously talked about. Participants also noted a range of practical considerations for the survey administrator, delivery setting and relevant authorities.

This research was commissioned by ONS as part of a wider project exploring the feasibility of a survey measuring child abuse in the UK.