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Description: Imagine, just for a moment, that we have just now decided to take seriously and to do something about physical child abuse. With any ‘from scratch’ effort to design an intervention a first step is to see what you can find out about both risk and protective factors in relation to whatever it is you want to intervene in. Risk factors include individual, situational, and relationship factors that are shown to be associated with increased likelihood that what you are worried about (e.g., child abuse) will occur or is occurring. Protective factors are individual, situational, and relationship factors that either make it less likely that one or more risk factors will emerge or, if they do, that will mitigate or reduce the impact of those risk factors (e.g., no or less child abuse). How do you find out what risk and protective factors have been shown, in research, to be at play in relation to child physical abuse? Well, you could obtain access to a University library or use online resources like Google Scholar and search the research literature on child physical abuse to see what you can find. What you will find is a rather larger number of studies of varying size and with varying design quality looking at the issue. What if, however, someone else did that for you and what if they used a review technique that mad eit possible from them to roll-up together studies looking at similar things so that, instead of a bunch of small studies, you were able to see the bigger picture across a number of studies? Wouldn’t that be a better starting point for the task of designing intervention strategies? What I have just described is a meta-analytic study that does not just gather relevant studies together and list them, but which rolls them together in ways which allows the researchers to not only identity risks and protective factors related to child physical abuse but also to speak to the size of those effects (e.g., small or medium). Effect sizes help people wanting to intervene decide what to focus upon in order to maximize the impact of their intervention efforts. How would that work in relation to physical child abuse? Well, have a read through the article linked below that describes just such a meta-analysis and, looking at the results it presents, think a bit about what opportunities might be there for interventions.

Source: Research Reveals 25 Risk Factors for Childhood Abuse, Arash Emamzadeh, Psychology Today.

Date: December 16, 2022

Image by Geralt from Pixabay

Article Link:

So, as helpful as the meta-analytic study is in providing an overview of risk and protective factor, with effect sizes, related to physical child abuse it is clear that a single simple intervention strategy is not obvious. Some of the parent risk factors could be addressed with parenting classes or other forms of support for at-risk parents and families taking on the challenges of being parents. However, some of the factors are more social. A tough economy and or/and declining job market could contribute to more than a few of the parental risk factors and require a higher level (economic) intervention. Another problem involves the question of how at-risk parents and families can be encouraged to engage with the intervention and how to present the intervention so it does not sound negative as most if not all potential participants have not yet and may never physically abuse their child or children (risk factors are predictors but not certainties). The list of protective factors is promising in these regards. It is longer, and it lists things that can be positively presented or offered to new parents without also communicating a feeling that they are being suspected of being potential child abusers. We have to be cautious when looking at protective factors as well. For example, the list of individual (child) protective factors include easy temperament, positive disposition and above average intelligence. Arguably these characteristics are, at least somewhat, genetically determined and thus need to be considered very carefully so that their inclusion does not give rise to victim blaming. Can good interventions be designed and implemented? Happily, the answer is yes. For large- and small-scale examples search things like Head Start, Home Visitation Programs, and Early Intervention that, while not eliminating child abuse DO seem to be having a positive impact.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What are risk and protective factors?
  2. What does a meta-analytic study involve?
  3. What did your intervention program or strategies involve when you put them together, hypothetically, based on the information in the linked article?

References (Read Further):

Milner, J. S., Crouch, J. L., McCarthy, R. J., Ammar, J., Dominguez-Martinez, R., Thomas, C. L., & Jensen, A. P. (2022). Child physical abuse risk factors: A systematic review and a meta-analysis. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 101778. Link

Putnam-Hornstein, E., Needell, B., & Rhodes, A. E. (2013). Understanding risk and protective factors for child maltreatment: The value of integrated, population-based data. Child abuse & neglect, 37(2-3), 116-119. Link

Langevin, R., Marshall, C., & Kingsland, E. (2021). Intergenerational cycles of maltreatment: A scoping review of psychosocial risk and protective factors. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 22(4), 672-688. Link

Holzer, P. J., Bromfield, L. M., Richardson, N., & Higgins, D. J. (2006). Child abuse prevention: What works. The effectiveness of parent education programs for preventing child maltreatment. Link

Healy, K., Darlington, Y., & Feeney, J. A. (2011). Parents’ participation in child protection practice: Toward respect and inclusion. Families in society, 92(3), 282-288. Link

Bauer, L., & Schanzenbach, D. W. (2016). The long-term impact of the Head Start program. The Hamilton Project. Link

Sweet, M. A., & Appelbaum, M. I. (2004). Is home visiting an effective strategy? A meta‐analytic review of home visiting programs for families with young children. Child development, 75(5), 1435-1456. Link

Daro, D., McCurdy, K., Falconnier, L., & Stojanovic, D. (2003). Sustaining new parents in home visitation services: Key participant and program factors. Child abuse & neglect, 27(10), 1101-1125. Link

Arruabarrena, I., & De Paúl, J. (2012). Early intervention programs for children and families: Theoretical and empirical bases supporting their social and economic efficiency. Psychosocial intervention, 21(2), 117-127. Link