Child Maltreatment and Abuse – A Predictor Agencies are Using Prediction to Prevent

According to 2011 data,  12.5 percent of children under the age of 18 are abused or neglected in the United States each year.  A Facts on Youth brief from the Center for Health and Justice at TASC cites a study published in JAMA Pediatrics that found confirmed maltreatment for 1 in 8 youth, with nearly 6 percent of cases  (just less than half of confirmed reports) involving children ages 5 and under.  The brief also notes that studies of child abuse and maltreatment that rely on self-reports rather than substantiated reports indicate a rate of up to 40 percent.

The Child Trends brief Preventing Violence: Understanding and addressing determinants of youth violence in the United States reviewed relevant research on interventions and policy approaches to reducing youth violence, with an emphasis on individual, family and school/community factors.  This review identified several predictors of violence, including domestic violence, dysfunctional parenting, gun availability, low self-control, and lack of connectedness to school.  Child maltreatment, however, was a strong predictor of nearly every type of violence.  The prevention of child abuse and provision of interventions to address the impact of such trauma appear to be critical actions in reducing the potential of future violence.  That said, although child maltreatment is a risk factor for criminal behavior, the longer term negative effects of that experience may be offset or amplified by other life events. Completing high school/getting a GED and getting married were two factors identified by a research team at the Social Development Research Group at the University of Washington as having a positive impact on a person’s life, thus reducing the power of the relationship between the maltreatment and future high risk behaviors.  A history of maltreatment combined with additional risk factors, such as poverty, increases the likelihood of criminal behavior.

As safety and health are essential factors in optimal child development, and may affect a multitude of life outcomes, new strategies have emerged to better identify and “triage” high-risk situations.  States are turning to the big data playbook to assist in investigations of abuse and maltreatment, using predictive analysis to help prioritize reports and better provide preventive services. Information such as family history, school reports and other administrative data, plus case officer knowledge, gives child welfare decision-makers more (if not necessarily better) data to guide the use of resources for the protection of children. Along with Connecticut, Florida, and Los Angeles County, Allegheny County here in western Pennsylvania is utilizing predictive analytics in an effort to reduce child maltreatment, abuse, and fatalities.  For more information on how predictive analysis is being used in child welfare, see Who will Seize the Child Abuse Prediction Market by Darian Woods and Checklists, Big Data and the Virtues of Human Judgement by Holden Slattery, both in The Chronicle of Social Change.


Survey Suggests We’re Not Talking about Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse

A study commissioned by the Avon Foundation for Women on the experiences and perceptions of domestic violence and sexual abuse found a lack of discussion and action on these issues by both teenagers and adults.

Data from the study, NO MORE Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Survey of Attitudes and Experiences of Teens and Adults  indicate that respondents felt these issues were important conceptually, but not much attention was given to them through words or actions, for example,

  • 60 percent of women and 75 percent of men had not discussed the topic of domestic violence with friends
  • 73 percent of parents with children under age 18 had not discussed the topic of sexual assault with their children
  • 15 percent of respondents felt that sexual abuse or domestic violence were problems among their friends
  • The majority of both male and female victims of domestic violence who had told someone about their situation reported that no one helped them

The Avon Foundation for Women plans to use this data to inform a new initiative to better train employers on the signs of domestic or sexual abuse and how to best support those who have experienced it. As the cost of domestic abuse in health care, mental health services and lost productivity amounts to billions of dollars each year, a scalable strategy to connect companies with local professionals to improve response and prevention efforts for families experiencing such crises is a step in the right direction.

Report: Over 25 Percent of Youth Witness Family Violence in Lifetime

Data from the groundbreaking National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NATSCEV) capture, in unprecedented detail, the amount and type of violence youth witness within the home.  More than a ¼ of children have experienced the terror of at least one episode of familial violence in their lifetime.  Over 11 percent of youth reported witnessing or overhearing violence – either verbal threats and attacks or physical aggression – in the past year while 6.6 percent were exposed to physical violence between their parents during the same time period.

The majority of cases of intimate partner violence (IPV) were reported to have a male perpetrator (78 percent), most often the father or other male (boyfriends not living with the mother, etc).  Over 1/5  (22.6) of youth witnesses to IPV reported incidents with only female perpetrators and 8.6 percent reported witnessing violent acts featuring both male and female perpetrators.

When asked what immediate reactions, if any, they had toward the violence, nearly half of the children responding to the survey had attempted to halt the violence by yelling (49.9 percent) while 43.9 percent attempted to leave the vicinity and less that ¼ of respondents (23.6) called for assistance.

Reports, both scientific and anecdotal, linking tough economic conditions to violence and abuse within the home have been widely reported in the media since the downturn took hold. This study provides compelling evidence of the need for continued and improved screening protocols, violence prevention, and intervention methods to address the violence children are exposed to within the home, in times of economic growth or decline.

The brief Children’s Exposure to Intimate Partner Violence and Other Family Violence by Sherry Hamy, David Finkelhor, Heather Turner and Richard Ormrod discusses the survey results in-depth and is available in PDF form at the National Criminal Reference Service website.

Exploring Causes and Consequences of Teenage Bullying

From the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) of April 22, 2011 comes the report Bullying Among Middle School and High School Students — Massachusetts, 2009, which examines the risk factors associated with involvement in bullying.

The report, based on analysis of data from the 2009 Massachusetts Youth Health Survey, found:

  • among middle school students over ¼ reported being a victim of bullying, 7.5 percent reporting bullying peers and 9.6 percent reported being involved in bullying as both a perpetrator and a victim (the bully-victim);
  • among high-schoolers, 15.6 percent were victims, 8.4 bullies and 6.5 percent bully-victims.
  • Bullies were more likely to be male in both middle and high schools, while victims were more likely to be female.
  • Compared with students not involved in bullying, bully-victims were exponentially more apt to indicate they had:
    • considered suicide,
    • purposefully hurt themselves,
    • been physically injured by a family member, or
    • witnessed violence within their family.

Data indicate that bully-victims reported experiencing or witnessing episodes of family violence more than bullies, and both groups reported the occurrence of family violence more than the victim group.This report confirms past research that linked bullying with alcohol and drug use, suicide, mental health challenges and the possibility of a pattern of future aggression. Unfortunately (and perhaps ironically), as this research has emerged, fiscal austerity measures have lead to a significant decrease in the funding for school-based bullying prevention programs.

How can the nonprofit sector mobilize to fill the need for evidence-based violence prevention services, including anti-bullying programs?  Can (and should) nonprofits partner with similar organizations such as churches, youth groups, scouts, sports leagues, etc., to address this troubling trend in youth behavior?