Child abuse prevention is a hope of all of us. Prevention efforts are promoted by agencies, government officials and professionals in the field. Research to learn effective methods of prevention is ongoing. Three categories of prevention are generally described as:
- Primary: efforts aimed at the general population to keep abuse from occurring.
- Secondary: efforts aimed at a particular group with an increased risk, to prevent abuse from occurring.
- Tertiary: efforts aimed at preventing abuse from happening again to those children who have already been abused.
This section will focus on primary and secondary prevention programs, the prevention of abuse from happening even once.
Most community strategies for prevention of physical abuse focus at the individual, families/relationships, social/community and cultural/society levels. These are based on the components of the ecological model of child physical abuse.
Modified from Howze, DC, Kotch J. Disentangling life events, stress and social support: implications for the primary prevention of child abuse and neglect. Child Abuse and Neglect 1984;8:401-409
Individuals can prevent physical abuse. Anything an individual can do to support children and parents can reduce the stress that may lead to abuse and neglect. Helping parents who appear to be struggling can include offers to babysit, run errands, or simply listen to them. Parents need to know that all babies cry. Newborns cry up to four hours a day. The following websites provide parents with advice on dealing with crying infants.
Two programs targeting large groups of individuals are nurse home visiting programs to high risk mothers and parental education of new parents about coping with stress and infant crying. Some studies suggest the latter programs can be effective in prevention of head injuries of child abuse due to blows to the child’s head or shaking. Additional programs guide primary care physicians in talking to families about child abuse and violence between adults in the home; violence between mothers and their partners is clearly associated with an increased incidence of child abuse. Additional programs target substance abuse by parents, which is commonly associated with physical and sexual abuse and neglect.
Sexual abuse prevention has usually been in the form of parents teaching their children about good touches/bad touches and sexual abuse prevention education in schools. Evidence for the effectiveness of these methods is limited.