Academic journal article Child Welfare

The Durham Family Initiative: A Preventive System of Care

Academic journal article Child Welfare

The Durham Family Initiative: A Preventive System of Care

Article excerpt

This article describes the Durham Family Initiative (DFI), an innovative effort to bring together child welfare and juvenile justice systems to reach DFI's goal of reducing the child abuse rate in Durham, North Carolina, by 50% within the next 10 years. DPI will follow principles of a preventive system of care (PSoC), which focuses on nurturing the healthy parent-child relationship. A community collaborative of government agency directors has signed a memorandum of agreement to implement the PSoC principles. The researchers will use multiple methods to evaluate DFI's efficacy.

Most scientifically evaluated efforts at child abuse prevention have occurred at the level of the individual child or family (e.g., Bugental et al, 2002; Olds, 1997). These studies have shown that families targeted for intervention can be successfully deterred from abusing their children; however, these studies provide little guidance for policymakers who wish to lower the rate of abuse for an entire community. Community-wide efforts must be concerned with how to bring evidence-based programs to scale, match families with programs, marshal the necessary financial and human capital to sustain a community-wide effort, and evaluate the effectiveness of their overall effort.

Government agencies, especially juvenile justice and child welfare systems, must work together to implement individuallevel best practices to have community-wide effects, but relatively little scientific research has been directed to guide or evaluate their efforts. This article describes the Durham Family Initiative (DPI), which is a systematic new attempt to lower the rate of child abuse for the entire community of Durham, North Carolina, by 50% over the next decade.

Child Maltreatment: A Public Health Emergency

Child maltreatment is an urgent public health problem, especially for America's youngest citizens. In the United States in 1999, agencies identified 826,000 children, or almost 12 of every 1,000, as victims of child abuse or neglect (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [HHS], Administration on Children, Youth and Families, 2001). The highest victimization rates, 13.9 per 1,000, occur among children between birth and age 3. Children younger than 1 year old account for the largest proportion (42.6%) of the maltreatment fatalities.

National victimization rates reflect official, legally defined cases, but they underestimate the extent to which children are victims of physical aggression. A recent anonymous telephone study, in which researchers interviewed a nationally representative group of 1,000 parents about their disciplinary practices using the Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scale, revealed much higher rates of severe physical assault of children (4.9% of the population) in the last 12 months than those indicated by official statistics (Straus, Hamby, Finkelhor, Moore, & Runyan, 1998).

Dodge, Bates, and Pettit (1990) took another approach to measuring child abuse in the community. They conducted in-home private interviews with a random sample of mothers and fathers of 585 five-year-old children in three communities. They estimated that 11.8% of all 5-year-olds had experienced physical maltreatment that reached the level that would ordinarily be reportable to child protective services. These findings corroborate the impressions and anecdotes of countless front-line social workers, judges, and law enforcement personnel that much more child maltreatment occurs than is officially counted (Putnam, 2000).

Child maltreatment is a pressing public health problem not only because it results in acute physical injuries but also because it exacts far-reaching costs in other areas of public concern, including victims' mental health and the continued perpetration of violence. The earlier in the child's life that maltreatment occurs, the more likely it is to recur (HHS, 1999) and the greater the physical, psychological, and social costs to the victimized child (Cicchetti & Toth, 1995; Keiley, Howe, Dodge, Bates, & Pettit, 2001). …

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