Child Abuse and Neglect: Part II-Practical Intervention and Prevention Activities

Article excerpt

Children who are abused suffer greatly, and a society in which abuse takes place is considerably diminished. Child abuse prevention programs play an important role in crime prevention, because not only is abuse a criminal activity, children who are abused are at greater risk of engaging in antisocial and criminal behaviour later in life.

Child abuse prevention is a complex and sensitive policy area involving all three levels of government as well as many different community organisations. Early intervention which results in more positive parent-child interaction has been demonstrated to have significant benefits for vulnerable children and for society as a whole. Benefits may continue as the child matures, and can lead to improved health and better employment opportunities.

This paper describes a number of programs that have been shown to work. They range from parenting and anger management programs to multifaceted in-house services.

This paper complements Trends and Issues No 146 Child Abuse and Neglect: Part 1 - Redefining the Issues which was published in February 2000.

Adam Graycar

Director

Defining Child Abuse Prevention

Prevention of child abuse and neglect involves taking action to stop abuse before it occurs, or intervening after the abuse has occurred to stop the abuse continuing and to help those who have been abused. The prevention of child abuse and neglect has traditionally been approached on three levels.

Primary prevention refers to programs targeted at the whole community (both children and adults) with the aim of preventing abuse before it starts. These programs include mass media campaigns or personal safety /protective behaviour programs. Examples include media campaigns such as those conducted in Child Protection Week each year by the National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN) as well as the distribution of information materials and training programs for professionals and community groups.

Primary prevention includes programs which target the entire community via universal health and welfare programs. Home visiting programs which provide antenatal care for whole populations are an example.

Secondary Prevention also refers to programs designed to prevent abuse, but in this case the programs target specific sections of the child population considered to be more "at risk" of being abused, and specific sections of the adult population considered to be more "at risk" of abusing. Examples of such programs are: home visitation for "at risk" groups, young parent support services, isolated single parent support services and respite services including crisis care. Many of these programs also accept clients referred by statutory child protection services. However, such referrals plus an overall lack of resources in the child welfare systems have led to a reduction in secondary prevention programs (Tomison 1997).

Tertiary prevention programs refer to prevention initiatives aimed at preventing the recurrence of abuse in those families where children have already been abused. These range from in-depth parental education (some compulsory) to the protection of children by the provision of out-of-home care for parental respite or the removal of the children from the families.

Reconceptualising Child Abuse Prevention

It is, however, becoming increasingly difficult to separate child abuse prevention into separate categories. While the classification of programs into primary, secondary and tertiary prevention may be useful for the purpose of research and government administration, artificial distinctions between programs are not reflected in the realities of case management (Rayner 1995; Tomison 1997). As suggested by Calvert (1993, p. 14):

If child abuse is viewed as a continuum, the classification of a particular type of intervention as primary, secondary or tertiary prevention depends largely on its timing - on the point along the continuum at which that intervention occurs. …