Social Work Child Maltreatment Prevention
Michelle Johnson-Motoyama, Starr Davis
  • 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.

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    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.

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

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    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.

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

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    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.

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

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    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.

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

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    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.

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

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    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.

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

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt1t89hqtSave Citation »Export Citation »

    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.

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  • 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-ySave Citation »Export Citation »

    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.

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  • 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: 10.4324/9781843925606Save Citation »Export Citation »

    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.

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

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    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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Journals inclusive of content related to child maltreatment prevention typically cover a range of topics spanning the etiology, consequences, and treatment of child maltreatment. Child Abuse and Neglect, Child Maltreatment, Children and Youth Services Review, and the Journal of Family Violence are interdisciplinary journals that publish original research on scientific, theoretical, and methodological advances to inform practice and policy. The International Journal on Child Maltreatment, the Journal of Public Child Welfare, the Child Welfare, and the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse provide academics and professionals with research designed to inform policy, programs, and practice. Trauma, Violence & Abuse publishes reviews of the literature on all forms of trauma, abuse, and violence. The Future of Children is an occasional journal that addresses a range of policy topics relevant to children including approaches to promoting healthy child development and preventing child maltreatment.

Strategies to Prevent Child Maltreatment

Traditional perspectives on child maltreatment prevention have been transforming through new research, policy experiments, and evidence about the effectiveness of universal and targeted programs in the prevention of child maltreatment. Today the problem of child maltreatment is typically conceptualized from a social ecological perspective that considers how factors at the individual, family, community, and societal levels interact over time, across child development, and in specific contexts to influence risk, resilience, and child protection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (see Federal Agencies and Centers) notes universal and targeted strategies in the prevention of child maltreatment that reflect the social ecological perspective include approaches such as changing social norms to prevent child maltreatment; strengthening family economic supports; and enhancing parenting skills to prevent child maltreatment and promote healthy child development. Each of these strategies are discussed in turn. High-quality systematic reviews and meta-analyses are considered the most reliable sources of research evidence to guide child maltreatment prevention practice and policymaking. Systematic reviews seek to address questions about the effectiveness of child maltreatment prevention programs by meticulously identifying and summarizing primary research studies on a given topic. In meta-analysis, authors apply statistical methods to summarize the results of the primary studies that are identified through systematic reviews. Therefore, to the extent possible, systematic reviews and meta-analyses are highlighted. However, it is important to note that our knowledge about the effectiveness of child maltreatment prevention strategies and programs is in an early stage of development. Therefore, information about certain strategies remains limited, and extreme care must be taken when reviewing related research. Further, to be successful, every community and organization seeking to prevent child maltreatment must consider a number of dimensions in the implementation of any particular strategy or program including social, economic, cultural, and historical contexts and implications for social and racial equity. For specific details about programs that fall under these strategies, and the populations and contexts with whom such approaches appear to be effective see the Clearinghouses section.

Changing Social Norms to Prevent Child Maltreatment

Population-level efforts to change social norms have focused on reducing risk factors for child maltreatment that are prevalent and modifiable. Efforts have focused on the ratification and implementation of child rights conventions and sustainable development goals, laws banning child maltreatment and corporal punishment, and media campaigns, alone or in combination with other programmatic activities. Since its passage in 1989, the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has inspired the incorporation of child rights principles into the laws in several countries, contributed to national agendas for children, and given rise to interventions focused on child survival and development. Ruck, et al. 2017 presents the ongoing scholarly and political debates regarding children’s rights from multidisciplinary perspectives. Lundy, et al. 2013 demonstrates that children’s rights are better protected when countries fully incorporate the CRC and establish structures to support, monitor, and enforce implementation. In light of the CRC, several countries have passed laws to change social norms and behavior related to child maltreatment. In their systematic review of laws banning corporal punishment, Zolotor and Puzia 2010 found legal bans to be associated with declines in support for and use of physical punishment and severe physical abuse. In a comparative study of corporal punishment in eight countries, Lansford, et al. 2017 found that while bans are designed to induce behavior change, they may be need to be combined with public awareness campaigns and educational materials about alternative disciplinary strategies to effectively change parenting beliefs and behaviors. In their systematic review, Poole, et al. 2014 found universal campaign interventions containing a media component to hold promise for shifting social norms regarding child physical abuse. Steen and Burg 2019 found exposure to online child abuse prevention campaign messages to be associated with positive parenting beliefs in a random sample of parents. However, Gagné, et al. 2018 emphasized the importance of considering the intended and unintended effects of media campaigns in different community contexts.

  • Gagné, M. H., A. Bélanger-Gravel, M. È. Clément, and J. Poissant. 2018. Recall and understanding of a communication campaign designed to promote positive parenting and prevent child maltreatment. Preventive Medicine Reports 12:191–197.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.pmedr.2018.09.015Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Evaluated a communication campaign developed to support the implementation of the Triple P (Positive Parenting Program) in two French-Canadian communities. They find community of residence, annual household income, and psychological aggression toward the child at home to be associated with campaign recall and the understanding of intended messages. Implications of the intended and unintended consequences of media campaigns to prevent child maltreatment are discussed.

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  • Lansford, J. E., C. Cappa, D. L. Putnick, M. H. Bornstein, K. Deater-Deckard, and R. H. Bradley. 2017. Change over time in parents’ beliefs about and reported use of corporal punishment in eight countries with and without legal bans. Child Abuse & Neglect 71:44–55.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2016.10.016Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Examines changes in national rates of corporal punishment over time in eight countries with and without corporal punishment bans using data from caregivers that participated in UNICEF’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey. Findings suggest that corporal punishment has declined in some countries. However, bans may need to be combined with public awareness campaigns and educational materials about alternative disciplinary strategies to effectively change parenting beliefs and behaviors.

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  • Lundy, L., U. Kilkelly, and B. Byrne. 2013. Incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in Law: A comparative review. The International Journal of Children’s Rights 21.3: 442–463.

    DOI: 10.1163/15718182-55680028Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Describes the methods through which a number of countries have incorporated the CRC. They demonstrate that children’s rights are better protected in countries that have fully incorporated the CRC systematically and established structures to support, monitor, and enforce implementation.

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  • Poole, M. K., D. W. Seal, and C. A. Taylor. 2014. A systematic review of universal campaigns targeting child physical abuse prevention. Health Education Research 29.3: 388–432.

    DOI: 10.1093/her/cyu012Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This review sought to determine the effectiveness of universal campaign interventions containing a media component in preventing child physical abuse. Reviewed studies of fifteen campaigns conducted over a twenty-two-year period in five countries. The incidence of child physical abuse decreased in two of three studies that assessed child physical abuse incidence; reductions were noted in related outcomes. The findings suggest such interventions hold promise for shifting social norms.

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  • Ruck, M. D., M. Peterson-Badali, and M. Freeman, eds. 2017. Handbook of children’s rights: Global and multidisciplinary perspectives. New York: Routledge.

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    This edited volume includes international and multidisciplinary contributions that address theory, research, and practice in the field of children’s rights and explores ongoing scholarly tensions and policy debates more than twenty-five years after the passage of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The volume includes chapters on the continuing problem of child abuse and neglect, and the protection of children against sexual exploitation.

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  • Steen, J. A., and M. A. Burg. 2019. Parental attitudes following exposure to child abuse prevention campaign materials: A randomized trial. Journal of Public Child Welfare 13.1: 18–34.

    DOI: 10.1080/15548732.2018.1462751Save Citation »Export Citation »

    The authors examine the relationship between exposure to online child abuse prevention campaign materials and the views of a randomized sample of parent participants. Exposure to materials was associated with beliefs regarding the effects of child maltreatment, harsh parenting, physical dangers and needs unique to childhood, and the power to prevent child maltreatment. Implications for practitioners seeking to develop effective campaign materials are discussed.

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  • Zolotor, A. J., and M. E. Puzia. 2010. Bans against corporal punishment: A systematic review of the laws, changes in attitudes and behaviours. Child Abuse Review 19:229–247.

    DOI: 10.1002/car.1131Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This systematic review examines the context for and content of laws against corporal punishment in twenty-four countries. Finds legal bans on corporal punishment to be associated with declines in support for and use of corporal punishment. The article finds preliminary support for declines in severe child physical abuse, though more research is needed.

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Strengthening Family Economic Supports

At least four decades of research demonstrates a strong relationship between socioeconomic factors and child maltreatment, with children in families of low-income at higher risk of maltreatment when compared to children in higher-income families. A series of recent policy experiments suggest targeted economic supports and universal strategies to balance work and family obligations represent important levers for prevention. Approaches that strengthen the economic security of families can mitigate risk by reducing the financial stressors that impinge on the mental health of caregivers and improve the ability of families to meet their children’s basic needs for food, housing, medical care, and childcare that is safe and developmentally appropriate. Strategies that expand access to health care can enhance parenting by improving physical, mental, and financial health and facilitate access to treatment for behavioral health problems such as substance use, an established risk for child maltreatment. Workplace strategies that enhance the ability of parents to care for their newborn children, such as paid family leave, can also reduce risks associated with child maltreatment by allowing parents to care for their own children, reducing stress, facilitating attachment, and promoting breastfeeding, a factor found to prevent child maltreatment. Berger, et al. 2017; Klevens, et al. 2017; Cancian, et al. 2013; and Ginther and Johnson-Motoyama 2020 have found income supports, even in small amounts, to have important preventive effects on various measures of child maltreatment through a variety of tax and income transfer approaches. Lee and Mackey-Bilaver 2007 found child participation in WIC and the former Food Stamp Program to be associated with lowered risk of child maltreatment and nutrition related health problems among children. Farrell, et al. 2018 found a combination of supportive housing and case management to prevent child maltreatment and out-of-home care, while Brown, et al. 2019 found Medicaid expansion to reduce neglect. Findings from Klevens, et al. 2016 suggests that the universal approach of Paid Family Leave prevents abusive head trauma.

  • Berger, L. M., S. A. Font, K. S. Slack, and J. Waldfogel. 2017. Income and child maltreatment in unmarried families: Evidence from the earned income tax credit. Review of Economics of the Household 15.4: 1345–1372.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11150-016-9346-9Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Uses an instrumental variables approach to examine the association between increased income from the Earned Income Tax Credit and self-reported child protective services involvement and parenting behaviors among unmarried families. Using longitudinal data drawn from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, the article finds additional income from the EITC is associated with decreases in child maltreatment outcomes.

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  • Brown, E. C., M. M. Garrison, H. Bao, P. Qu, C. Jenny, and A. Rowhani-Rahbar. 2019. Assessment of rates of child maltreatment in states with Medicaid expansion vs states without Medicaid expansion. JAMA Network Open 2.6: e195529–e195529.

    DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.5529Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Examines whether Medicaid expansion is associated with referrals screened in for child abuse and neglect investigation among children less than six years of age (2010–2016). Using difference-in-difference analyses, they compare states that expanded Medicaid and those that did not and find Medicaid expansion to be associated with reductions in child neglect rates but not physical abuse rates.

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  • Cancian, M., M. Y. Yang, and K. S. Slack. 2013. The effect of additional child support income on the risk of child maltreatment. Social Service Review 87.3: 417–437.

    DOI: 10.1086/671929Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Uses an experimental study design using random assignment to examine the causal effects of additional income on the risk of child maltreatment. Among the levels of income, they find greater amounts of additional income to reduce the risk of child maltreatment when compared to lesser amounts of income.

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  • Farrell, A. F., P. A. Britner, M. A. Kull, et al. 2018. Final report: Connecticut’s intensive supportive housing for families program. Chicago: Chapin Hall at the Univ. of Chicago.

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    Describes the implementation and evaluation of a supportive housing intervention for families newly involved with Connecticut’s child welfare system (2012–2018). Using a randomized controlled trial design, the authors found families with access to supportive housing and case management experienced both short- and long-term benefits. When compared to controls, treatment groups had a lower proportion of substantiated child maltreatment incidents and child removals.

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  • Ginther, D., and M. Johnson-Motoyama. 2020. Does TANF affect child abuse and neglect? National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper.

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    Examines whether state changes to the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) cash-assistance program affected child maltreatment rates (2004–2016) using difference-in-difference models. They find that restrictions on access to TANF implemented by states significantly increased reports and victims of child maltreatment as well as foster care placements. Additional estimates indicate that policies easing restrictions on TANF reduced child maltreatment and foster care placements.

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  • Klevens, J., F. Luo, L. Xu, C. Peterson, and N. E. Latzman. 2016. Paid family leave’s effect on hospital admissions for pediatric abusive head trauma. Injury Prevention 22.6: 442–445.

    DOI: 10.1136/injuryprev-2015-041702Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Examines the relationship of Paid Family Leave (PFL) to hospitalizations for abusive head trauma (AHT) using difference-in-difference analyses of US state-level data (1995–2011). They find that California, which implemented a PFL policy in 2004, experienced a significant decrease in AHT admissions in infants and children less than two years of age when compared to states with no PFL policies.

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  • Klevens, J., B. Schmidt, F. Luo, L. Xu, K. A. Ports, and R. D. Lee. 2017. Effect of the earned income tax credit on hospital admissions for pediatric abusive head trauma, 1995–2013. Public Health Reports 132.4: 505–511.

    DOI: 10.1177/0033354917710905Save Citation »Export Citation »

    The article compares thirteen states without Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) programs to fourteen states with EITC programs (1995–2013). Using difference-in-difference analyses, they find refundable EITC programs to be associated with a decrease of 3.1 abusive head trauma admissions per hundred thousand children who are younger than two years old.

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  • Lee, B. J., and L. Mackey-Bilaver. 2007. Effects of WIC and Food Stamp program participation on child outcomes. Children and Youth Services Review 29:501–517.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2006.10.005Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Examines the effects of WIC and Food Stamp Program (FSP) participation on reducing the incidence of child maltreatment and children’s health problems. They find participation in WIC and FSP to be associated with lower risk of abuse and neglect and fewer diagnoses of multiple nutrition-related health problems.

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Enhancing Parenting Skills to Prevent Child Maltreatment

Since the 1990s, a growing body of research has demonstrated empirical support for universal and targeted strategies to prevent child maltreatment by enhancing parenting skills through modalities including early childhood home visiting programs, parenting education and parent coaching, preschool enrichment and family engagement, and enhanced primary care. While some programs have demonstrated positive results with specific populations under specified conditions in certain settings, many systematic reviews and meta-analyses such as Selph, et al. 2013; Peacock, et al. 2013; Levey, et al. 2017; Euser, et al. 2015; Chen and Chan 2016; Altafim and Linhares 2016; and Nieuwboer, et al. 2013 report mixed results due to a number of factors: a limited number of primary research studies conducted on a particular topic; varying levels of rigor in the designs of primary studies; the heterogeneity of samples, populations, interventions, and intervention settings; and attrition due to challenges in retaining parents in interventions. In response, a growing number of studies have emerged to facilitate the implementation of evidence-based practices and identify factors that contribute to inconsistent outcomes. For example, in their meta-analysis, Casillas, et al. 2016 found staff training, supervision, fidelity monitoring, and certain study characteristics to have significant effects on home visiting program outcomes. In a special issue devoted to universal approaches to prevention, Daro, et al. 2019 provide an update on some of the most promising universal strategies for enhancing parenting skills and offer a precision public health perspective that expands thinking about the array of universal and targeted supports that might be made available to all families. For details about specific parenting programs and the populations and contexts for whom such approaches appear to be effective, see the Clearinghouses section.

  • Altafim, E. R. P., and M. B. M. Linhares. 2016. Universal violence and child maltreatment prevention programs for parents: A systematic review. Psychosocial Intervention 25.1: 27–38.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.psi.2015.10.003Save Citation »Export Citation »

    The study reviewed twenty-three studies of sixteen different programs seeking to promote positive parenting practices with parents in the general population. Seven studies included randomized controlled trials. All of the studies demonstrated improvements in parent outcomes post-intervention. Additionally, the programs improved child behavior in 90 percent of the studies that assessed this outcome.

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  • Casillas, K. L., A. Fauchier, B. T. Derkash, and E. F. Garrido. 2016. Implementation of evidence-based home visiting programs aimed at reducing child maltreatment: A meta-analytic review. Child Abuse & Neglect 53:64–80.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2015.10.009Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Research regarding the effectiveness of home-visiting programs in preventing child maltreatment has yielded mixed results. Sought to determine whether these mixed findings are associated with specific implementation factors or study characteristics. Through their meta-analysis of 156 studies of nine home visitation models they found staff training, supervision, fidelity monitoring, and certain study characteristics to have significant effects on program outcomes.

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  • Chen, M., and K. L. Chan. 2016. Effects of parenting programs on child maltreatment prevention: A meta-analysis. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse 17.1: 88–104.

    DOI: 10.1177/1524838014566718Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This study evaluated the effectiveness of parenting programs in reducing child maltreatment globally using thirty-seven studies published prior to September 2013. Finds that the parenting programs reviewed successfully reduced self-reported and substantiated reports of child maltreatment, child abuse potential, and related risk factors with the exception of parental depression and stress. The programs produced positive effects in low-, middle-, and high-income countries.

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  • Daro, D., K. A. Dodge, and R. Haskins, eds. 2019. Universal approaches to promoting healthy development. Future of Children 29.1: 1–162.

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    This edited volume addresses the question of how society can best support parents, beginning early in their children’s lives. The articles describe the history and evolution of child maltreatment prevention and present studies of universal home visiting, universal parent support, and prevention in primary care. The article discusses the challenges associated with scaling, rigorously evaluating, and financing universal approaches in the context of eager reception on the part of communities.

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  • Euser, S., L. R. Alink, M. Stoltenborgh, M. J. Bakermans-Kranenburg, and M. H. van IJzendoorn. 2015. A gloomy picture: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials reveals disappointing effectiveness of programs aiming at preventing child maltreatment. BMC Public Health 15.1: 1068.

    DOI: 10.1186/s12889-015-2387-9Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Synthesizes findings from randomized controlled trials on the effectiveness of twenty parenting programs seeking to prevent the occurrence or recurrence of maltreatment. Some existing parenting programs were found to reduce maltreatment, but no evidence was found for prevention. The article outlines a series of recommendations for the development and testing of prevention programs targeting families at-risk.

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  • Gershoff, E. T., S. J. Lee, and J. E. Durrant. 2017. Promising intervention strategies to reduce parents’ use of physical punishment. Child Abuse & Neglect 71:9–23.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2017.01.017Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Describes a range of approaches designed to alter attitudes toward the physical punishment of children and discuss the evidence base for these approaches. Strategies are organized by three levels of prevention: universal, selected, and indicated. Direction for further program development and research are discussed.

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  • Levey, E. J., B. Gelaye, P. Bain, et al. 2017. A systematic review of randomized controlled trials of interventions designed to decrease child abuse in high-risk families. Child Abuse & Neglect 65:48–57.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2017.01.004Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Reviewed eight randomized controlled families of home visiting programs that enrolled pregnant women or new mothers at elevated risk of child maltreatment. They find statistically significant reductions in maltreatment in three studies and reductions in reports to child protective services in two others. Highlights the need for more studies from low- and middle-income countries.

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  • Nieuwboer, C. C., R. G. Fukkink, and J. M. A. Hermanns. 2013. Online programs as tools to improve parenting: A meta-analytic review. Children and Youth Services Review 35.11: 1823–1829.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2013.08.008Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Examines the effectiveness of web-based parenting programs through a systematic review and meta-analysis of twelve studies published between 2000 and 2010. They find web-based parenting programs generate positive outcomes for parents for parents and children.

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  • Peacock, S., S. Konrad, E. Watson, D. Nickel, and N. Muhajarine. 2013. Effectiveness of home visiting programs on child outcomes: A systematic review. BMC Public Health 13.1: 17.

    DOI: 10.1186/1471-2458-13-17Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Examined the effectiveness of home visiting programs staffed by paraprofessionals on the outcomes of disadvantaged children from birth to six years through a systematic review of studies published from 1990 through May 2012. Observes program effectiveness in child maltreatment prevention among certain groups; however, the programs reviewed demonstrated limited effectiveness in improving the lives of children in disadvantaged families.

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  • Selph, S. S., C. Bougatsos, I. Blazina, and H. D. Nelson. 2013. Behavioral interventions and counseling to prevent child abuse and neglect: A systematic review to update the U.S. preventive services task force recommendation. Annals of Internal Medicine 158.3: 179.

    DOI: 10.7326/0003-4819-158-3-201302050-00590Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Updates the US Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation of 2004 through a review of eleven studies regarding the effectiveness of behavioral interventions and counseling in health care settings published between 2002 to June 2012. They found risk assessment and behavioral interventions in pediatric clinics to reduce abuse and neglect in young children. Early childhood home visitation also reduced child abuse and neglect, though results were inconsistent.

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Several clearinghouses have been developed to disseminate information about strategies that have demonstrated effectiveness in preventing child maltreatment and its risk factors. The Child Welfare Information Gateway connects professionals and the public to a wide range of information, resources, and tools on topics related to child welfare including child maltreatment prevention. The Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse was developed in response to the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 to systematically review research on programs and services that provide support to children and families and prevent foster care entry. California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare provides a searchable database of child welfare programs and their evidence of effectiveness. Home Visiting Evidence of Effectiveness provides evidence of the effectiveness of home visiting models that target families with pregnant women and children from birth to five years of age. Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development provides a registry of evidence-based interventions that are effective in reducing antisocial behavior and promoting healthy youth development and adult maturity. Teen Pregnancy Prevention Evidence Review identifies programs with evidence of effectiveness in reducing teen pregnancy, a risk factor for child maltreatment. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hosts the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Evidence-Based Practices Resource Center, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which contains resources on a wide range of topics related to the prevention and treatment of mental health and substance use disorders.

Research and Data Centers

Several research centers in the United States seek to advance science to prevent and intervene in child maltreatment. Founded in 1860, the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago specializes in research and policy with child welfare as a primary focus. Chapin Hall sponsors the Doris Duke Fellowships for the Promotion of Child Well-Being. Founded in 1972, the Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect has an applied research program that addresses a range of questions relevant to the prevention of child maltreatment and sponsors the Differential Response Initiative. Two newly funded centers reflect recent investments by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to advance science in the field of child maltreatment: the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network at Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute and the Center for Innovation in Child Maltreatment Policy, Research, and Training at Washington University’s Brown School. The National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect promotes the secondary analysis of child abuse and neglect data by providing researchers with data sets, documentation, and technical support. The Children’s Data Network is a data and research collaborative focused on data linkage, analysis, and partnerships with agencies and funders to inform evidence-informed policies and programs. The Crimes Against Children Research Center, Child Trends, and KIDS COUNT Data Center provide researchers, practitioners, and policymakers with national- and state-level statistics and analysis on topics related to child maltreatment, child welfare, and child well-being.

Governmental Organizations and Public-Private Partnerships

Various governmental organizations and public-private partnerships are dedicated to the prevention of child maltreatment and the dissemination of effective prevention strategies.

International Organizations

At the international level, the World Health Organization (WHO) Violence Prevention Unit, the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, and the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children engage in activities to build capacity for the global surveillance of maltreatment, promote strategies for maltreatment prevention, and provide technical support. Together for Girls is a global public-private partnership that specifically focuses on ending sexual violence against girls.

Federal Agencies and Centers

In the United States, a number of federal agencies and centers set policy priorities for child maltreatment prevention and specialize in technical assistance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Injury and Violence Prevention (NCIPC) and the Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children and Families: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provide resource guidelines, technical assistance, and funding to assist individuals, organizations, and communities in the implementation and evaluation of child maltreatment prevention efforts. The Children’s Bureau’s Child Welfare Capacity Building Collaborative seeks to build the capacity of states, tribes, and courts to improve child welfare practice and achieve safety, permanency, and well-being for children. The Family Resource Information, Education, and Network Development Service (FRIENDS) provides training and technical assistance to state lead agencies implementing Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention grants, first established under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act in 1996. The National Center for Fatality Review and Prevention supports child death review activities at the state, community, and national levels to inform fatality prevention efforts.

National Advocacy and Technical Assistance Organizations

Several national nonprofit organizations in the United States aim to prevent child maltreatment through a range of strategies that incorporate advocacy and technical assistance. Prevent Child Abuse America seeks to prevent child maltreatment through advocacy, public awareness campaigns, and home visiting programs. The National Alliance for Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds similarly works at the national and state levels through partnerships with local children’s trust and prevention funds. The National Alliance for Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds and Parents Anonymous strongly emphasize parent partnerships in their approaches to prevention. Parents Anonymous engages in legislative advocacy and hosts Parents Anonymous support groups for parents and children, a national parent helpline, and parent leadership networks. The Children’s Defense Fund and the Center for the Study of Social Policy advance policies and programs that prevent maltreatment, promote equitable access to services, and reduce disproportionality and disparities among vulnerable and marginalized children. The National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence hosts a resource center to prevent family violence. The National Coalition to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation seeks to end sexual abuse and exploitation through advocacy, key policy actions, social media campaigns, and other activities. ZERO TO THREE focuses on the critical developmental period of the first three years of life and provides resources, practical tools and related policies for parents, professionals and policymakers.

Professional Societies

A number of professional societies seek to promote effective approaches to the prevention of child maltreatment. The International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse & Neglect (ISPCAN) and the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children sponsor professional development and networking opportunities. The Collaborative on Healthy Parenting in Primary Care supports the integration of effective programs that promote healthy parenting into primary care settings to achieve optimal health for children and prevent maltreatment. The Society for Research on Child Development and the Society for Prevention Research are national scientific societies that seek to advance science to promote the health and well-being of children, youth, families, and communities.


Several foundations have been established with goals encompassing the prevention of child maltreatment. The Kempe Foundation was created to raise awareness of child maltreatment, advocate for children, and obtain resources for the work of the Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect (cited under Research and Data Centers). Linked by a common family legacy, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Casey Family Programs seek to improve the lives of children who lack family support, connections and the opportunities they need to thrive. More recently established foundations dedicated to the prevention of child maltreatment include the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and its Child Well-being Program and the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect.

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