Child Welfare (Foster Care, Parenting, Adoption, Immigrant Children)



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Child abuse happens when children under 18 years of age experience physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, or neglect (Fortson, Klevens, Merrick, Gilbert, & Alexander, 2016). Individuals who experience child abuse are at greater risks for developing mental and emotional disorders, and they are more likely to attempt suicide (Pérez-Fuentes et al., 2013).

Scope and Impact on the Family

It is difficult to estimate the prevalence of child abuse because it is so underreported (Pérez-Fuentes et al., 2013; Walsh, Zwi, Woolfenden, & Shlonsky, 2018). One study suggested that about 9 in 1000 children in the United States are victims of child abuse, some of whom die because of it (Peterson et al., 2018). Homes with child abuse usually include unsafe, weak, and toxic relationships that hinder child development, especially with early development (Fortson et al., 2016). Such relationships are connected with higher levels of violent behavior in children. When they are adults, they are more likely to exhibit violence in dating and intimate partner relationships, sexual violence, and self-harm (Fortson et al., 2016).

Family Demographics

Certain demographics are associated with higher levels of child abuse. Families with lower socioeconomic status experience higher levels of child abuse (Bywaters et al., 2016). Reports show that females are also sexually abused more than males: males, 5% to 16%; females, 15% to 32%. However, part of this gap may be due to lower levels of reporting in males (Pérez-Fuentes et al., 2013).

The Solution (Policy)

In relation to sexual abuse specifically, school-based programs are facilitated in minority schools (Walsh et al., 2018). In a one year-period between 2014 and 2015, 85% of elementary schools utilized a prevention program, and about two in three children experience these kinds of programs (Pulido et al., 2015).


These school-based abuse prevention programs focus on teaching children skills they can use to defend themselves against perpetrators (Walsh et al., 2018). Programs also help children learn how to recognize situations that can be sexually abusive. Parents are taught how to appropriately respond to their children when they bring up concerns regarding sexual abuse. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce harm by empowering children to avoid harm and seek help, and to help parents provide the best support possible for their children (Walsh et al., 2018).

Policy Impact

Research shows that there is a decrease in child abuse because of prevention programs (Peterson et al., 2018; Walsh et al., 2018). The costs to run prevention programs are small compared to the benefits of reduced child abuse incidences treated in healthcare, child services, and the legal system (Peterson et al., 2018). The long-term benefits for children and their families where abuse has been avoided as a result of these programs is significant as well (Peterson et al., 2018).

Unintended Consequences

Unfortunately, prevention programs that teach children how to protect themselves may deliver an incorrect message that children are responsible for protecting themselves from abuse and that it is not the responsibility of the parents or other adults to keep them safe (Walsh et al., 2018). Another issue related to child abuse prevention policies is the poor connection between the legal system and agencies that encounter potential child abuse (Chasnoff, Barber, Brook, & Akin, 2018). Because each system is left to discern for themselves minor details in what counts as child abuse under certain policies, families miss out on help they would otherwise receive if there was a clear line of collaboration between agencies, medical professionals, and the legal system (Chasnoff et al., 2018)

Personal Reaction

Child abuse is definitely a big issue and it has a major impact on families. Child abuse within families alters the course of children’s development for the rest of their lives. It also impacts how they treat their families of procreation, and it becomes a nasty cycle that leads to more child abuse and more unhealthy families. The fact so many children experience child abuse or witness domestic violence is very sad. Because it is so underreported, and so well hidden by perpetrators, it is hard to imagine that there will ever be a policy that will stop child abuse.

Even with school-based abuse prevention programs, adults have more power than children. Thus, child abuse will still happen because children will always be weaker than the adults that abuse them. The only comforting idea that arises when considering these programs is that child abuse is still reduced in some way. Even if a hundred children are all a policy saves, it is worth it because saving a hundred children can save a hundred lines of posterity and future generations. Each child matters, thus efforts made by policy makers will reap some success. The real question lies in finding the best way to implement effective policies.


Bywaters, P., Bunting, L., Davidson, G., Hanratty, J., Mason, W., McCartan, C., & Steils, N. (2016). The relationship between poverty, child abuse and neglect: An evidence reviewYork: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Retrived from

Chasnoff, I. J., Barber, G., Brook, J., & Akin, B. A. (2018). The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act: Knowledge of health care and legal professionals. Child Welfare, 96(3), 41-58. Retrieved from

Fortson, B. L., Klevens, J., Merrick, M. T., Gilbert, L. K., & Alexander, S. P. (2016). Preventing child abuse and neglect: A technical package for policy, norm, and programmatic activities. Division of Violence Prevention. doi: 10.15620/cdc.38864

Pérez-Fuentes, G., Olfson, M., Villegas, L., Morcillo, C., Wang, S., & Blanco, C. (2013). Prevalence and correlates of child sexual abuse: a national study. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 54(1), 16-27. doi: 10.1016/j.comppsych.2012.05.010

Peterson, C., Florence, C., Thomas, R., & Klevens, J. (2018). Cost-benefit analysis of two child abuse and neglect primary prevention programs for US states. Prevention Science, 19(6), 705-715. doi: 10.1007/s11121-017-0819-8

Pulido, M. L., Dauber, S., Tully, B. A., Hamilton, P., Smith, M. J., & Freeman, K. (2015). Knowledge gains following a child sexual abuse prevention program among urban students: A cluster-randomized evaluation. American Journal of Public Health, 105(7), 1344-1350. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2015.302594

Walsh, K., Zwi, K., Woolfenden, S., & Shlonsky, A. (2018). School-based education programs for the prevention of child sexual abuse: A Cochrane systematic review and meta-analysis. Research on Social Work Practice, 28(1), 33-55. doi: 10.1177/1049731515619705

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