Costs and consequences of child maltreatment Overview of literature on the prevalence, impact and costs of child maltreatment

Boy cold at bus stopAn overview of recent literature on the prevalence of child abuse and neglect, its impact on children throughout their lives, and the costs it incurs on the children, their families and the wider society. It goes on to consider the potential savings that might arise from preventive interventions.

This research was conducted by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research for the NSPCC.

Author: Pamela Meadows, Jane Tunstill, Anitha George, Amar Dhudwar and Zarrina Kurtz
Published: 2011

Although only a relatively small proportion of children are identified as having experienced maltreatment in any particular year, retrospective studies of adults suggest that a much larger number have some experience of maltreatment at some stage of their childhood.

The damage caused by child maltreatment can last throughout the child’s life. Maltreatment can lead to: physical changes in the developing brain; difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships; mental health issues; disruption to education and social relationships; and behavioural problems. These consequences have costs for the children themselves, for their families, and for the wider society, both in terms of on-going support costs, and the costs of the behavioural consequences for a small minority.

A wide variety of interventions have been developed to address the harm caused by child maltreatment. However, measuring the impact of these interventions and demonstrating that they are cost-effective is highly challenging. Costs of maltreatment, such as poor heath and low earnings amongst maltreated individuals, occur in the very long term, and tend to be overlooked by the short timescales used in conventional calculations of cost-effectiveness. Also, because at any single point in time the proportion of children who are at risk of maltreatment is relatively small, the sample numbers required to measure change in a statistically significant way are much larger than those seen in conventional research studies. These factors contribute to a current lack of research evidence on the effectiveness of interventions.

From an examination of the research that is available, the report concludes that approaches which focus on ensuring that the community provides an environment where resilience of both parents and children is strengthened and where the incidence of risk factors is reduced, and where the institutions that have the capacity to improve life prospects are improved are the most likely to bring about improvements in children’s life chances.

Preface 7
Summary 8
Introduction 15
Prevalence of maltreatment 19
The consequences of maltreatment 42
The identification of maltreatment 72
Interventions 83
The effectiveness of interventions 120
Resilience 143
Conclusion 148

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