Population-based measures and tackling key risk and protective factors
Strategies aimed at reducing the prevalence of child maltreatment must tackle factors that increase the level of risk to a child as well as factors that help protect them from abuse.
We know things can be particularly challenging for parents who are affected by domestic abuse, alcohol and drug misuse and mental health problems, as well as those who have financial problems. If we can help these families get back on track, we can help to protect children.
For example, there is evidence to show that measures such as a ban on alcohol advertising, minimum pricing on alcoholic drinks, taxing all alcohol products the same according to their actual volume of alcohol and reducing the number of retail outlets for alcohol can all help to minimise alcohol misuse.
Using health promotion messages such as “alcohol and children don’t mix” may also prove to be valuable in changing social norms, in the same way that social marketing helped change public opinion about drink-driving. Child advocacy organisations need to lend their voices to those lobbying for such reform.
At a secondary prevention level, making evidence-based treatment programmes readily available for parents can prevent harm to young children. For example, the NSPCC’s Parents Under Pressure™ aims to support parents who are on a drug or alcohol treatment programme, helping them to learn parenting tips and life skills, and improve their relationship with their baby.
A key factor in protecting children from abuse is parent-child attachment; this is fundamental to a parent’s motivation to protect and nurture their child.
There is some evidence that conducting ultrasound consultations during pregnancy in ways that help prospective parents see their unborn child as an individual with an identity can improve a parent’s attachment to their baby.
Similarly, there is evidence that mothers who breastfeed are less likely to physically abuse their children. Other protective factors include social support for families facing high levels of stress.