An Alternative Approach to Child Abuse
Reporting and Treatment
Belgium is a small European country of 10 million inhabitants composed of three linguistic communities (French, Flemish, and German). Although small, the country is very divided, which makes it rather complicated for an outsider to understand. Our research examines child abuse and neglect policies during the period between 1986 and 1992. Belgium has no mandatory reporting system for cases of child abuse and neglect. Since the mid-1980s, 17 specialized centers for the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect have been established by decree in Wallonia and by resolution in Flanders (two of the country's three major regions). The centers are organized around three functions.
First, the centers offer direct assistance and management of abused children and their families. This means that children are protected in the family and remain with the family whenever possible. Even if a safe place has to be found outside the family, the parents are involved in the decision making.
Second, the centers offer support, supervision, and counseling for professionals confronted with child abuse. Help for the families indeed necessitates help for those who work with them.
Finally, the centers' more general function is preventive. The focus is more on changing public opinion than trying to change the family because child abuse and neglect cannot be reduced to a problem of bad or pathological parents.
The Belgian reporting system is very flexible since people are encouraged, but not legally obliged, to report cases of child abuse to these centers. Current issues facing the Belgian system are expressed in the following questions: Is