ATrain Education


Continuing Education for Health Professionals

IA: Child Abuse, A Guide for Mandatory Reporters

Module 8

Risk Factors and Prevention of Child Abuse

A combination of individual, relational, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of child abuse and neglect. Although children are not responsible for the harm inflicted upon them, certain characteristics have been found to increase their risk of being maltreated. Risk factors are those characteristics associated with child abuse and neglect—they may or may not be direct causes (CDC, 2016).

Risk Factors for Victimization

Individual risk factors

  • Children younger than 4 years of age
  • Special needs that may increase caregiver burden (eg, disabilities, mental retardation, mental health issues, and chronic physical illnesses) (CDC, 2016).

Risk Factors for Perpetration

Individual Risk Factors

  • Parents’ lack of understanding of children’s needs, child development and parenting skills
  • Parents’ history of child maltreatment in family of origin
  • Substance abuse and/or mental health issues including depression in the family
  • Parental characteristics such as young age, low education, single parenthood, large number of dependent children, and low income
  • Non-biological, transient caregivers in the home (eg, mother’s male partner)
  • Parental thoughts and emotions that tend to support or justify maltreatment behaviors (CDC, 2016).

Family risk factors

  • Social isolation
  • Family disorganization, dissolution, and violence, including intimate partner violence
  • Parenting stress, poor parent-child relationships, and negative interactions (CDC, 2016).

Community risk factors

  • Community violence
  • Concentrated neighborhood disadvantage (e.g., high poverty and residential instability, high unemployment rates, and high density of alcohol outlets), and poor social connections (CDC, 2016).

Protective Factors for Child Maltreatment

Protective factors buffer children from being abused or neglected. These factors exist at various levels. Protective factors have not been studied as extensively or rigorously as risk factors. However, identifying and understanding protective factors are equally as important as researching risk factors (CDC, 2016).

There is scientific evidence to support the following protective factor:

Family protective factors

  • Supportive family environment and social networks (CDC, 2016).

Several other potential protective factors have been identified. Research is ongoing to determine whether the following factors do indeed buffer children from maltreatment (CDC, 2016).

Family Protective Factors

  • Nurturing parenting skills
  • Stable family relationships
  • Household rules and child monitoring
  • Parental employment
  • Adequate housing
  • Access to health care and social services
  • Caring adults outside the family who can serve as role models or mentors (CDC, 2016).

Community protective factors

  • Communities that support parents and take responsibility for preventing abuse (CDC, 2016).

Strategies for Prevention of Child Abuse

Child abuse and neglect are serious problems that can have lasting harmful effects on victims. The goal for child maltreatment prevention is clear—to stop child abuse and neglect from happening in the first place. Child abuse is a complex problem rooted in unhealthy relationships and environments. Safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for all children and families can prevent child abuse. However, the solutions are as complex as the problem (CDC, 2016a).

Child abuse and neglect are complex problems rooted in unhealthy relationships and environments. Preventing child abuse and neglect requires a comprehensive approach that influences all levels of the social ecology (including the societal culture), community involvement, relationships among families and neighbors, and individual behaviors. Effective prevention strategies focus on modifying policies, practices, and societal norms to create safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. (CDC, 2016a).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers extensive information and links on child abuse prevention techniques and programs at its website. A number of studies and programs are particularly relevant to health care providers who may be involved with child abuse situations.

The Iowa Child Abuse Prevention Program (ICAPP) is a state and federally funded program that was established by Iowa Legislature in 1982. Prevent Child Abuse Iowa administers the program, as well as providing assistance and guidance to the organizations that offer direct family support with ICAPP funds. Their website is:

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