New York: Child Abuse and Maltreatment/Neglect for Mandated Reporters (348)Page 13 of 16

12. Protective Factors

In the past, child maltreatment prevention and intervention strategies have focused on eliminating risk factors—conditions, events, or circumstances that increase a family’s chances for poor outcomes, including child abuse and neglect. This emphasis on family risks, such as maternal depression, family violence, or history of maltreatment often left families feeling stigmatized or unfairly judged. In addition, focusing on risk factors does not always point the way toward solutions (CWIG, 2020).

A “protective factors approach” to the prevention of child maltreatment focuses on positive ways to engage families by emphasizing their strengths and what parents and caregivers are doing well. One goal is to identify areas where families have room to grow with support (CWIG, 2020).

Protective factors are the characteristics of a child, a family, or the environment that diminish the probability of suffering from adverse experiences such as child maltreatment, abuse, or neglect. They improve an individual’s response to adverse experiences that would typically lead to a negative outcome (Navarro-Pérez et al., 2024).

Protective factors reduce the risk of child-to-parent violence. Additionally, protective factors can moderate trauma-related distress in children who have experienced maltreatment or household dysfunction (Navarro-Pérez et al., 2024).

Five commonly cited protective factors are:

  1. Parental resilience
  2. Child social and emotional competence
  3. Parental knowledge of child development and parenting skills
  4. Concrete support for parents
  5. Social connections

Using this approach, agencies can build capacity and partnerships with other service providers—such as early-childhood and youth-service systems—that are likely to enhance support for children and families and promote their well-being. Children, youth, and families can build resilience and develop skills, characteristics, knowledge, and relationships that offset risk exposure and contribute to both short- and long-term positive outcomes (CWIG, 2020).

Families, communities, practitioners, and advocates can help foster social and emotional competencies at the individual, family, and community levels. These strategies can help children who experience adversity develop resilience and skills. Adverse childhood experiences can be mitigated by positive childhood experiences, and more children can have healthy environments in which to play, learn, and grow into mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy adults (CWIG, 2020).

Resources: Podcasts

The Child Welfare Information Gateway offers a two-part podcast series on protective factors:

Prevention: Protective Factors Part 1

Prevention: Protective Factors Part 2

Information Gateway’s podcasts cover a broad array of topics and are available via the Child Welfare Information Gateway Podcast Series webpage or wherever you get your podcasts.