Academic journal article Child Welfare

Strengthening Families and Communities to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect: Lessons from the Los Angeles Prevention Initiative Demonstration Project

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Strengthening Families and Communities to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect: Lessons from the Los Angeles Prevention Initiative Demonstration Project

Article excerpt

The Prevention Initiative Demonstration Project, funded by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), is a community-specific strategy delivered through eight regional networks designed to address the full spectrum of community-based prevention. This article summarizes a strong and meaningful pattern of improvements found in the second year evaluation for three groups of familiesthose living in high-risk communities but not involved with DCFS, those being investigated by DCFS for possible child maltreatment, and those with open DCFS cases.

Leaders in public child welfare agencies across the country recognize that prevention can be an important supplement to traditional protective services and foster care, but few have invested resources or created the partnerships necessary to develop community-based, public-private initiatives at a scale that could make a measurable difference in preventing or decreasing child abuse and neglect. This article reports on an extraordinary countywide effort by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to fund eight regional community-based prevention networks designed to address the full spectrum of child abuse and neglect prevention.

Begun in February 2008 as a demonstration project to provide guidance for redesign of several existing community-based contracts, the Prevention Initiative Demonstration Project (PIDP) is a community-specific strategy delivered through eight PIDP networks that work closely with the 18 local DCFS regional offices that serve the county's eight Service Planning Areas (SPAs). In partnership with DCFS and local universities, Casey Family Programs funded and co-led the descriptive evaluation of PIDP's first program year, 20082009 (McCroskey et al., 2009) and empirical assessment of secondyear (2009-10) outcomes for three groups of families-those living in high-risk communities but not involved with DCFS, those being investigated by DCFS Emergency Response (ER) workers, and those whose children had open DCFS Family Maintenance (FM) or Family Reunification (FR) cases. This article provides an overview of the theories and strategies guiding PIDP, a brief description of the first two years of work, and results for families after two years. These findings are particularly noteworthy because they revealed a pattern of improvements for families, including families who were not involved with DCFS and those with various levels of system involvement.

Program Theories and Strategies

Underlying Theories and Research

The child welfare field has long recognized that prevention is the "third vital leg of the child welfare tripod" that must be combined with child protection and foster care to keep children safe (Citizens Committee for Children of New York City, 2010). In practice, however, the pathways to child maltreatment are varied and difficult to predict, there are never enough resources for intervention with those already identified as "at risk," and so without special efforts, the dream of preventing abuse tends to lose ground to the necessity of crisis response and protective services (Daro, Budde, Baker, Smith, & Harden, 2005; Spielberger, Haywood, Schuerman, Michels, & Richman, 2005). Unfortunately, this means that the goals of child safety, permanence, and well-being are compromised, as prevention is a vital element in strengthening families and communities.

The National Research Council and Institute of Medicine's 2009 report, Preventing Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Disorders Among Young People, advanced a broader conceptualization of preventionbased findings emerging through prevention science. The report places various services and other strategies along a continuum of health: promotion, universal, selected, and indicated prevention programs (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2009). Promotion refers to strategies designed to encourage or nurture good health. …

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