In Brief

When it comes to child abuse prevention, "we have neglected neglect," Jeffrey Haugaard, PhD, of Cornell University told a crowd at a June 11 congressional hearing.

More than 60 percent of child abuse cases stem from neglect, yet most prevention programs are geared to combating sexual and physical abuse, which make up 10 percent and 19 percent of the cases respectively, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

At the June hearing, "Protecting Our Nation's Children: What We Know About Child Abuse Prevention," at the Capitol, and organized by APA, psychologists called for a multifaceted approach to tackle the issue of child abuse.

Among them was Sharon Portwood, JD, PhD, from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, who noted that in 2000, an estimated 900,000 children were abused. Portwood says the field of child abuse is still young and many questions remain on identifying which caregiver behaviors should be prevented or encouraged and the most effective outcome measures to evaluate child abuse prevention programs.

"We cannot think in the broad sense, but we have to be specific," said Haugaard. Prevention efforts must address the issue of child maltreatment from several angles, he said.

To be effective, intervention programs should target different age groups, Haugaard noted, since particular types of maltreatment occur more frequently at certain ages. For example, reported cases of neglect tend to decline as age increases. Plus, programs need to better reflect the differences in abuse. For instance, Haugaard explained, the approach would be different for parents who hit their children in a mad rage compared with parents who tied up their children and beat them.

Portwood proposed the following efforts in making child abuse prevention more effective:

  • Reforms to the health-care system, such as making health care more affordable and accessible, and more focused on interactions between hospital staff and parents.

  • Requiring students to take classes in child development, family relations and parenting in school.

  • Increasing public awareness campaigns.

  • Improving the economic situation for poor families.

  • Increasing the availability of high-quality child care.

The briefing was co-sponsored by the Section on Child Maltreatment of APA's Div. 37 (Child, Youth and Family Services) and by the Consortium of Children, Families and the Law.