Evaluation of a Child Abuse Prevention Curriculum for Third-Grade Students: Assessment of Knowledge and Efficacy Expectations

Article excerpt

One important threat to the physical, mental, and social well-being of youth is child abuse and neglect. Data from the 1999 National Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting System (NCANRS) indicated there were almost 3 million referrals of possible child maltreatment brought to the attention of child protective services (CPS) in 1999. (1) Substantiated or indicated maltreatment was estimated at about 826,000 victims. Prevalence of the various types of maltreatment reported included neglect (58.4%), physical abuse (21.3%), sexual abuse (11.3%), and psychological and other forms of maltreatment (35.9%).

Costs from the various forms of child maltreatment include the psychological and physical trauma occurring at the time of the abuse as well as long-term deleterious effects to the well-being of those abused. Consequences of child abuse in the long-term often include impulse control problems, low self-esteem, depression, suicide, self-abuse, eating disorders, substance abuse, low empathy for others, antisocial behavior, aggression and violence, delinquency, sexual maladjustment, learning impairment, low academic achievement, poor adult health, and higher rates of premature mortality. (2-10)

One estimate calculated the national costs resulting from child maltreatment at more than $94 billion per year including both direct costs (associated with expenditures on immediate needs of abused children) and indirect costs (associated with long-term and/or secondary effects of child abuse) (Figure 1). (11)

Recognizing a need to reduce or eliminate child abuse, educators substantially increased their efforts since the 1970s to protect children from abuse. An estimated two-thirds of American children completed these programs. (12) These efforts most often occurred in the form of educational programs implemented in elementary schools, probably because of a higher incidence of abuse noted in young children. (13) The programs seek to help children recognize child abuse, to teach them strategies to say "no" or to avoid abusive situations, to disclose their abuse to a trusted adult, and to assure children such incidents were not their fault. (14) These programs vary by teacher selection, materials utilized, and length of programs offered. Results from the evaluations of these interventions show they can produce a change in knowledge and in perceived skills regarding child abuse situations. (15-18) Knowledge gains leave unanswered, in a definitive way, whether increased knowledge protects children from subsequent child abuse. We need more information regarding the external validity of classroom exercises on child abuse in protecting children from potentially abusive encounters.

Three studies provided limited insight into longer-term protective effects of child abuse prevention programs. First, Finkelhor et al (12) conducted a national survey of 2,000 youth aged 10 to 16. They found (12) that children receiving more extensive school-based prevention programs were more knowledgeable about abuse, more likely to report self-protective strategies when threatened, more likely to tell someone after an attempted victimization, and less likely to blame themselves for the abuse. The second study (19) of self-reported behavioral effects of child abuse prevention programs retrospectively assessed reports from 825 predominately White, undergraduate college women. Those who had not participated in a school prevention program as a child were almost twice as likely as those who had participated in such a program to report experiencing child sexual abuse. A modest retrospective study (20) of high school students (n = 137) who either attended or had not attended a child abuse program in elementary school, found that those who received a prevention program were more knowledgeable of abuse issues, more likely to support reporting abuse, and reported half as many physical abuse incidents as those who had not completed an elementary school abuse prevention program. …