Journal Issue: Preventing Child Maltreatment Volume 19 Number 2 Fall 2009
Matthew Stagner and Jiffy Lansing chart developments in the field of child maltreatment and propose a new framework for preventing child abuse and neglect. They begin by describing the concept of investment-prevention as it has been applied recently in fields such as health care and welfare. They then explain how the new framework applies to maltreatment prevention, noting in particular how it differs from the traditional child protective services response to maltreatment.
Whereas the traditional response aims to prevent a recurrence of maltreatment once it has already taken place, the new framework focuses on preventing maltreatment from occurring at all. Rather than identifying risk factors for maltreatment and addressing the problems and deficiencies of the primary caretaker, the new framework focuses on strengthening protective factors and building family and social networks to reinforce the ability of parents to care for their children. Whereas the orientation of the traditional child welfare service approach is legal and medical, the new framework has a more developmental and ecological orientation. It aims to build on the strengths children have at particular points of the life stage and enhance the social context of the child. Rather than putting families into the hands of unknown professionals who shuffle them from one program to another, including foster care, the investment-prevention model seeks to integrate professionals and paraprofessionals from the family’s community into their everyday life, as well as to ensure an interconnected system of services. Finally, rather than seeking to minimize harm to the child, it aims to maximize potential—to strengthen the capacity of parents and communities to care for their children in ways that promote well-being.
Researchers have struggled to define maltreatment, identify its causes, and assess its consequences and costs. In recent years, however, researchers have clarified the severe consequences of child maltreatment and highlighted several risk factors. They have also developed new prevention interventions based on a variety of theories explaining why maltreatment takes place. Stagner and Lansing conclude with a brief survey of these new prevention interventions. The task for researchers now, they say, is to conduct rigorous evaluations of the interventions to demonstrate the benefits of prevention.