They ask for protection: An exploratory study into experiences with violence among unaccompanied refugee children in Dutch reception facilities

A. E. Zijlstra, M. C. Menninga, E. C. C. van Os, M. E. Kalverboer - Child Abuse & Neglect



Children placed under governmental supervision and staying in residential or foster care are more vulnerable to violence than children who live with their own families. One specific group of children staying in reception facilities under governmental supervision comprises unaccompanied refugee children who have fled to a host country without their parents.


This qualitative study explores the experiences of unaccompanied children with regard to violence in reception facilities in the Netherlands from the perspective of the children.

Participants and setting

183 unaccompanied children (N = 183) sheltered in a variety of reception facilities in the Netherlands.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted focusing on several topics related to their perceived quality of life. The transcripts of the interviews were analyzed for experiences with violence occurring inside the reception facilities. The codebook that was used was based on the categorization of maltreatment in the fourth United States National Incidence Study (NIS-4) and the interpretation of violence by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in General Comment No. 13 (GC 13).


A large share (66 %) of the unaccompanied children had experienced violence in various reception facilities. Most of the experiences reported had to do with either physical and emotional abuse and neglect or institutional violence.


The breadth of experiences of violence underlines the responsibility of the Dutch state to invest in the safe reception of unaccompanied children in order to protect their development, while also investing in further research on the prevalence of violence in the reception of unaccompanied children.