OXFORD academics have found that since the 1900s there has been a large overall decrease in child abuse – but, worryingly, that trend may now be reversing.

Using recently digitised archival data from the last 150 years, the study by Oxford University is the first to examine such long term trends in child maltreatment in England and Wales.

Until now researchers have only been able to look at changes in child abuse over short time periods (e.g. 10 years).

This means that any trends identified might have been unreliable due to short-term fluctuations.

Oxford researcher Michelle Degli Esposti said: “I looked to history for answers; dusting off cobwebs in government and NSPCC archives to dig out over 150 years of previously unused data.”

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The study found child homicides and crimes against children both decreased by around 90 per cent.

However, their findings also note a change in the downward trends in the early 2000s, showing that child abuse could now be on the increase.

In 2016, adolescents were the most vulnerable age group to die by homicide, and neglect and emotional abuse were the most common types of registrations to the child protection register.

The the researchers themselves have noted the limitations of the study, saying further work is needed to better establish whether child abuse has actually become more common over the last 20 years or whether child protection services have become better at responding to child abuse.