Journal Issue: Preventing Child Maltreatment Volume 19 Number 2 Fall 2009
Richard P. Barth
Improved parenting is the most important goal of child abuse prevention. Parents maltreat their children for many reasons and combinations of reasons. In the past three decades, researchers have identified four common co-occurring issues—parental substance abuse, parental mental illness, domestic violence, and child conduct problems—that are related to parenting and that lead to child maltreatment. Understanding and responding to these issues is fundamental to designing effective parenting education programs that can help prevent abuse and neglect. One key decision facing those who design such programs is whether (and the extent to which) a parenting program should directly address these related problems or whether efforts to improve parenting should focus primarily or solely on improving parenting skills, with the expectation that the negative effects of these other problems on parenting may recede if parenting programs are effective.
A fifth risk factor for child abuse is family poverty. Every national incidence study of child abuse and neglect has shown that poor families are disproportionately involved with child welfare services. Parenting education, however, is not designed to reduce poverty, and that risk factor will not be further discussed below. See the article in this volume by Fred Wulczyn for a discussion of family poverty and child maltreatment.