The State of Research on Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect: Current knowledge and future directions to inform policy and practice


Child welfare has been at the forefront of policy in the past year. With the inclusion of Family First Prevention Services Act in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, the enactment of SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, and the popularity of “trauma-informed” approaches, there are many new opportunities to help ensure children and families receive the best available resources. But with all these new opportunities, we as researchers need to take stock of the state of this body of research and critically examine the knowledge and where gaps in the knowledge still exist when discussing prevention of child abuse and neglect. This special topic meeting will bring interdisciplinary researchers, policymakers, and direct service providers, with expertise in child abuse and neglect prevention together to understand the state of the field and to explore policymakers and practitioners’ unanswered questions need to inform their work.

The depth of knowledge cultivated by the Doris Duke Fellowship for the Promotion of Child Well-being has developed leaders who conduct practice and policy-relevant research that enhances child development and improves the nation’s ability to prevent all forms of child maltreatment. The interdisciplinary nature of the fellowship has created a cadre of the next generation of child welfare researchers from different disciplines (i.e., social work, psychology, prevention science, public policy and administration, sociology, medicine, public health, education, criminal justice, human development, epidemiology, history, neuroscience) who understand how to bridge the research and policy/practice divide. The Doris Duke Fellowship network, including both fellows and their academic and policy mentors, spans across the career spectrum and would provide opportunities for students and early career professionals both inside of and outside of academia to highlight important work on prevention of maltreatment. The Doris Duke Fellows will utilize this expertise in the planning and execution of this special topic meeting, including drawing on connections with specialists in prevention research from the Society for Prevention Research, state- and federal-level child welfare policy specialists, SRCD fellows (past and present), Chapin Hall (e.g., Deborah Daro).

The days would be structured to focus on different subtopics per day. The first day would tackle the question, “What do we know about prevention of child abuse and neglect?” The second day would highlight the question, “Where does research about prevention of child abuse and neglect need to go to fill gaps in current knowledge?” The final day would incorporate both of these topics to answer the applied question, “How do we translate what we know and what we don’t for policy and practice to make real world decisions?” While the topic of the last day will be incorporated into each of the previous days as well, a specific emphasis for this last day will be giving attendees concrete methods and connections to engage policymakers and practitioners in their work. We propose workshops and activities which will provide attendees with skills in how to write policy briefs, how to successfully lobby politicians, and how to engage local community programs and stakeholders in collaborative efforts to prevent child maltreatment. Each day would consist of poster and presentation sessions and a plenary session framing the day’s topic. Specific Plenary sessions would feature panels of experts from a variety of disciplines, including policymakers and practitioners. A particular emphasis will be placed on designing small and large group opportunities for interdisciplinary discussion, including the use of guided round table sessions and brown bag special interest group lunches. Presentation sessions will focus on interdisciplinary research being conducted on the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Poster sessions will provide students and early career researchers opportunities to present their work. Notes taken throughout the special topic meeting will be compiled and summarized into product(s) such as articles, briefs, and/or a monograph to be disseminated to a larger audience to help inform researchers, advocates, policymakers, and practitioners.

This special topic meeting fulfills all of the strategic goals of SRCD. First, to Goal 1 “Advance Developmental Science,” this special topic meeting advances the cutting edge developmental topic of prevention of child abuse and neglect and creates the opportunity to collaborate, integrate, and communicate research across the many disciplines that encompass prevention of child abuse and neglect and other forms of early adversity. Second, to Goal 2 “Communicate, Exchange and Translate,” this meeting includes a day devoted to applying research to and translating research for policymakers and practitioners. Across all days, the policy and practice perspective will be incorporated by including these diverse voices in research sessions and on panels. Additionally, notes from the various sessions can be summarized to be disseminated widely. Third, to Goal 3 “Integrate Diversity,” prevention of child abuse and neglect cuts across all races, cultures, and socioeconomic statuses which will be reflected in the diversity of the information presented and in those presenting the information. Fourth, to Goal 4 “Build Capacity,” the Doris Duke Fellowships have been highlighted for their ability to train, build, and sustain networks of new, interdisciplinary researchers. With the content of the special topic meeting being planned by these former and current fellows, SRCD will expose its members to a new network of experts and collaborators. Finally, to Goal 5 “Engage Members,” not only are many of the Doris Duke Fellows members of SRCD, but many SRCD members are engaged in research on prevention and child welfare. This special topic meeting is a way to engage current SRCD members from across the career spectrum in collaborative research with other disciplines such as social work, sociology, criminal justice, and public policy.

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This is a great idea, and as mentioned, the topic is uniquely positioned to align with recent policy initiatives and legislation related to child abuse and neglect prevention. The emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration will be a great way to pull in SRCD members across disciplines to work together on this salient topic, and seems like the key strength of this proposal. Two related topics that I think fit within this proposal: (1) applications and best practices for use of administrative data to address “What do we know about prevention of child abuse and neglect” and (2) topics related to implementation science (e.g., issues with the scale-up of programs we know are effective, innovations to increase the speed of the research “pipeline”.

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Aspen Institute discussion today about the importance of prevention…