Child Abuse Prevention: A Job Half Done
This brief discusses the findings of the Fourth Federal Incidence Study on Child Maltreatment (NIS 4), which reports a significant reduction in the overall rate of child maltreatment since the 1993 NIS. The study reflects substantial drops in the rates of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and emotional abuse. However, no significant changes were documented in the rate of child neglect, a more chronic and pervasive form of child maltreatment—and the one that is most frequently documented among children in the child welfare system.
Nonetheless, the study shows a meaningful drop in the rate of violence towards children—a drop that may be attributable to the implementation of comprehensive prevention strategies, high-quality clinical interventions, and aggressive prosecution of the most serious offenders.The author argues that, though these findings are encouraging, there is more work to be done.
Despite the impressive declines in abuse documented in the most recent NIS study, the current rate of child maltreatment is still 75 percent higher than the rate observed in the 1980 NIS study. In contrast to the targeted interventions and broad universal strategies enacted to prevent sexual abuse, efforts to prevent physical abuse and neglect have been far less comprehensive.
Strong empirical evidence exists for investing in prevention efforts during the first few years of a child’s life through programs like intensive home-based interventions, though these efforts can only serve a fraction of new parents. Expansion of these home-based early interventions, as well as other evidence-based, targeted interventions, are an important step in addressing maltreatment, but are only part of the solution. The abuse-prevention message needs to be communicated to the general population through a wide array of media outlets— and individuals, as well as communities, need to accept responsibility for the well-being and healthy development of their children.