In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Child Maltreatment Prevention

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Clearinghouses
  • Research and Data Centers
  • National Advocacy and Technical Assistance Organizations
  • Professional Societies
  • Foundations

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Social Work Child Maltreatment Prevention
Michelle Johnson-Motoyama, Starr Davis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0282


Child maltreatment is a costly, dynamically complex problem of global significance with serious consequences for children, families, and communities. The World Health Organization defines child maltreatment as abuse and neglect that results in actual or potential harm to a child’s health, survival, development, or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust, or power. While estimates vary by country, the most recent global estimates suggest that over the course of childhood 23 percent of adults are physically abused, 36 percent are emotionally abused, and 16 percent are physically neglected. Approximately one in five girls are sexually abused, a rate 2.5 times higher than that of boys. Overviews of the nature and scope of child maltreatment are provided in separate Oxford Bibliographies articles “Child Maltreatment,” “Child Maltreatment,” and “Intergenerational Transmission of Maltreatment.” In depth entries addressing systems of response to child maltreatment are provided in “Child Protection” and Child Welfare. This article focuses on universal and targeted strategies to prevent child maltreatment before it occurs. Whereas universal strategies seek to reach all children and families with prevention programming in a given community, targeted strategies are designed to reach specific families with identified needs. This entry provides general overviews on the topic of child maltreatment prevention from interdisciplinary perspectives. It directs readers to scientific journals that disseminate peer-reviewed research, scholarship on universal and targeted child maltreatment prevention strategies, and clearinghouses that provide timely evidence regarding the effectiveness of specific programs. The vast number of international and US agencies and organizations engaged in child maltreatment prevention efforts are highlighted. A growing body of established and emerging research evidence demonstrates that the prevention of child maltreatment is possible within our lifetimes through public and private investments in effective universal and targeted strategies; interdisciplinary and cross-systems collaboration; innovation; and political will.

General Overviews

Over the past century, our knowledge, perspectives, and frameworks for preventing child maltreatment have evolved from a focus on psychopathology and the behaviors of individuals to a public health approach that consider universal and targeted strategies at multiple levels of society and across multiple forms of violence. Willis, et al. 1992 is considered one of the first primers on the topic of child maltreatment prevention with reviews of the extant scientific base and discussions of clinical experiences from developmental and ecological perspectives. Dodge and Coleman 2009 produced an edited volume that embodied the next wave of prevention by emphasizing the theoretical, scientific, and practice bases for prevention strategies at the community level. Korbin and Krugman 2014 examined a broad range of topics on child maltreatment with chapters dedicated to key questions about the progress of the prevention field and its sustainability in the context of limited resources. In 2014, the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council released a consensus report that summarized and highlighted the urgent need for additional research to inform the prevention of child maltreatment, concluding with a call for a coordinated and strategic national research program. Edited volumes such as Bentovim and Gray 2015 and Lonne, et al. 2019 offered interdisciplinary and international perspectives on strategies for the prevention and early intervention of child maltreatment using a public health approach, challenging the current forensic child protection paradigm. Runyan, et al. 2018 suggested that declines in physical and sexual abuse in the United States may be partly explained by declines in intimate partner violence and adolescent pregnancy. The implications of these findings resonate with the CDC’s Connecting the Dots approach (see Federal Agencies and Centers), which encourages consideration of the overlap between multiple forms of violence in prevention strategies from a public health perspective. A two-volume training series (Alexander 2017 provides a comprehensive and interdisciplinary overview of child maltreatment prevention from its etiology to its economic dimensions. Smallbone, et al. 2013 and Nelson 2016 provide in-depth reviews and critiques on the topic of child sexual abuse and its prevention.

  • Alexander, R. 2017. Research and practices in child maltreatment prevention. Florissant, MO: STM Learning.

    This comprehensive and interdisciplinary two-volume series addresses the etiology of maltreatment, risk and protective factors, social determinants, public health approaches, and the economics of child maltreatment. The series provides a survey of contemporary models in the prevention of child maltreatment, discusses agency and organizational approaches to maltreatment prevention, and addresses prevention among special populations along with cultural considerations.

  • Bentovim, A., and J. Gray, eds. 2015. Eradicating child maltreatment: evidence-based approaches to prevention and intervention across services. London: Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley.

    This edited volume offers interdisciplinary perspectives on strategies for the prevention and early intervention of child maltreatment from a public health perspective. Drawing primarily from research and practice in the United States and the United Kingdom, the book offers new insights on prevention from the fields of health care, criminal justice, social care, and education.

  • Dodge, K. A., and D. L. E. Coleman. 2009. Preventing child maltreatment: Community approaches. New York: Guilford Press.

    This edited volume presents the scholarship of leading researchers in the field of child maltreatment prevention. The book first describes the scientific basis for the community prevention of child maltreatment followed by theory and available research on community-based approaches such as home visiting, population-based parenting interventions, the primary prevention of abusive head trauma, and the secondary prevention of maltreatment through differential response programs. Key policy and practice matters are discussed.

  • Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2014. New directions in child abuse and neglect research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

    This consensus report published by the National Research Council updates the 1993 report titled Understanding Child Abuse and Neglect. It provides new recommendations based on two decades of research on maltreatment definitions and incidence; causality; consequences; the child welfare system; intervention, prevention, and service delivery systems; policy; and research challenges and infrastructure. The report identifies priorities and recommendations for developing a coordinated and strategic national research enterprise.

  • Korbin, J. E., and R. D. Krugman, eds. 2014. Handbook of child maltreatment. New York: Springer.

    This edited book examines a broad range of child maltreatment topics that summarize the current state of knowledge and outline future directions. Topics address maltreatment definitions and types, surveillance, epidemiology, etiology, consequences of maltreatment, treatment, law, and policy. Chapters on prevention address questions related to the sustainability of progress in the prevention field, public health and community-wide approaches, differential response, and resource allocation.

  • Lonne, B., D. Scott, D. Higgins, and T. I. Herrenkohl, eds. 2019. Re-visioning public health approaches for protecting children. New York: Springer International.

    This edited compilation challenges the 21st-century forensic child protection paradigm by proposing alternative approaches to child maltreatment prevention and response from a public health perspective. The volume draws on case studies of public health approaches and stakeholder perspectives in global settings to demonstrate the challenges inherent to program implementation and systems change along with strategies to overcome such barriers.

  • Nelson, S. 2016. Tackling child sexual abuse: Radical approaches to prevention, protection and support. Chicago: Policy Press.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt1t89hqt

    Nelson and her colleagues challenge existing policies and models of practice related to child sexual abuse. Describes strategies that center on improving protection and prevention for children, teenagers, and adult survivors of sexual abuse and address perpetrator-focused and community approaches. Prevention content is woven throughout the book including chapters on mental health, trauma, and the histories of survivor offenders.

  • Runyan, D. K., L. Schwab-Reese, and V. Shankar. 2018. Is the US national decline in child physical abuse attributable to the decline in intimate partner violence and births to adolescent mothers? International Journal on Child Maltreatment: Research, Policy and Practice 1.1: 41–49.

    DOI: 10.1007/s42448-018-0006-y

    Model reductions in substantiated child maltreatment, intimate partner violence, and adolescent pregnancy rates (2001–2013) using state level data and find 7.5 percent of the decline in substantiated child physical abuse and 9.5 percent of the decline in substantiated sexual abuse to be attributable to declines in adolescent births. An additional 4.9 percent of the decline in child physical abuse was attributed to declines in intimate partner violence.

  • Smallbone, S., W. L. Marshall, R. Wortley, W. L. Marshall, and R. Wortley. 2013. Preventing child sexual abuse: Evidence, policy and practice. Milton, England: Willan.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781843925606

    Defines the multidimensional problem of child sexual abuse and establish the scope of the problem. They articulate an integrated theory of the etiology of child sexual abuse that integrates biological, developmental, ecosystemic, and situational factors. They describe current approaches to prevention and offer a comprehensive prevention strategy informed by their theoretical model.

  • Willis, D. J., E. W. Holden, and M. S. Rosenberg, eds. 1992. Prevention of child maltreatment: developmental and ecological perspectives. New York: Wiley.

    Published as part of Wiley’s series on personality processes, this book was considered an early primer on child maltreatment prevention. Drawing on the authors’ scientific and clinical experiences, this edited volume provides a historical overview of child maltreatment prevention, developmental perspectives on child maltreatment from infancy through adolescence, and an overview of the knowledge base regarding child maltreatment prevention and treatment delivery systems at the time of its publication.

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