Academic journal article Child Welfare

Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect: Programmatic Interventions

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect: Programmatic Interventions

Article excerpt

Underlying the crisis in child welfare services are various causes that include, among others, insufficient resources, poor management, and inappropriate and inadequate staff training and supervision. The plethora of programmatic ideas to improve the child welfare system include, among others, adoption reform, the expanded use of kinship care, more direct services for special subpopulations of children at risk, juvenile justice reforms, and expanded family preservation programs.

None of these programmatic ideas are inappropriate or without merit. The child welfare system, nevertheless, will continue to be unable to do its job as long as the number of child abuse reports outpaces existing revenues. And, in the current economic climate, the funding may simply not exist to provide quality care to children and families once abuse and/or neglect are identified or a family is found unable to care for its children, if the total number of these families is not reduced. The limited efficacy of treatment services and the real constraints on public revenues underscore the importance of directing revenues to interventions designed to prevent those conditions that limit parental capacity and lead children to the child welfare system [Cohn and Daro 1987].

Various causal models have been used to explain why some parents are unable or unwilling to meet their children's basic physical and emotional needs [Newberger and Newberger 1982]. For purposes of identifying the program design implications of this body of work, the theories can be classified into four general groups:

1. Psychodynamic theory-suggests that parents would function better if they understood themselves and their role as parents.

2. Learning theory--suggests that parents would function better if they knew how best to care for their children.

3. Environmental theory--suggests that parents would function better if they had greater resources available to them in terms of material support or social support for a given set of actions.

4. Ecological theory-suggests that parents would function better if a network of services or supports existed to compensate for individual, situational, and environmental shortcomings.

Each theoretical framework suggests specific components of a comprehensive prevention agenda or system. Indeed, the final theoretical framework, ecological theory, serves a strong integrative function, reminding program and policy planners that providing for a child's welfare rests not in one program but in a network of coordinated efforts.

Ideally, prevention programming would target all aspects of human and social behavior that place children at risk. In actuality, most prevention efforts have offered services to individual parents, families, or children with the goal of altering those behaviors and attitudes that contribute to an elevated risk for poor parenting and poor child outcomes. Programs targeting parents seek to enhance knowledge of child development, to strengthen basic parenting skills, and to offer ongoing support to assist parents in minimizing the negative consequences of stress. Programs that target children seek to strengthen their resistance to initial maltreatment, help them adopt less aggressive and violent means to resolve conflict, and mediate the negative influences of maltreatment or environmental deficits.

All of these strategies have undergone numerous evaluations. Most of these efforts are not controlled experiments and many are fraught with serious methodological problems [Daro, in press; Azar 1988; Howing et al. 1989]. This criticism is well placed and underscores the need for more sophisticated and consistent evaluation efforts. Limiting the pool of useful program evaluations, however, to only those efforts that meet strict standards of scientific validity is impractical. Although the present pool of evaluative research most certainly has its limitations, it does offer preliminary guidelines for shaping programs and systems and for articulating the critical issues calling for further study. …

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