Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect

Working to reduce child abuse and neglect

Prevention promotes a positive action or behavior and, in turn, stops a negative action or behavior. In the case of child abuse interventions, the promotion of protective factors and the reduction of risk factors have been found to ensure the well-being of children and families. Child abuse prevention occurs along a continuum that includes primary prevention, secondary prevention and tertiary prevention.

Primary prevention

Primary prevention consists of activities that are targeted toward the whole community. These activities are meant to impact families and communities prior to any allegations of abuse and neglect. Primary prevention services include:

  • Parent education programs and support groups that focus on child development, age-appropriate expectations, and the roles and responsibilities of parenting
  • Family strengthening programs that enhance a family’s ability to access existing services and resources to support positive interactions among family members
  • Public awareness campaigns that provide information on how and where to report suspected child abuse and neglect

Secondary prevention

Secondary prevention consists of activities targeted to families that have one or more risk factors such as substance abuse, low parental age, disabilities or special needs, single parents, and low-incomes. Secondary prevention services include:

  • Parent support groups that help parents deal with their everyday stresses and meet the challenges and responsibilities of parenting
  • Home visiting programs that provide support and assistance to expecting and new mothers in their homes
  • Respite care for families that have children with special needs
  • Family resource centers that offer information and referral services to families living in low-income neighborhoods
  • Parent education programs located in high schools, focusing on teen parents, or those within substance abuse treatment programs for mothers and families with young children

Tertiary prevention

Tertiary prevention consists of activities targeted to families that have confirmed or unconfirmed child abuse and neglect reports. These families have already demonstrated the need for intervention and qualify for services under child welfare programs. Tertiary prevention programs include:

  • Parent mentor programs with stable, non-abusive families acting as "role models" and providing support to families in crisis
  • Intensive family preservation services with trained mental health counselors that are available to families 24 hours per day for a short period of time (e.g., 6 to 8 weeks)
  • Parent support groups that help parents transform negative practices and beliefs into positive parenting behaviors and attitudes
  • Mental health services for children and families affected by maltreatment to improve family communication and functioning