The nation’s child protection system (CPS) has historically focused on preventing maltreatment in high-risk families, whose children have already been maltreated. But, as Jane Waldfogel explains, it has also begun developing prevention procedures for children at lower risk—those who are referred to CPS but whose cases do not meet the criteria for ongoing services. Preventive services delivered by CPS to high-risk families, says Waldfogel, typically include case management and supervision. The families may also receive one or more other preventive services, including individual and family counseling, respite care, parenting education, housing assistance, substance abuse treatment, child care, and home visits. Researchers generally find little evidence, however, that these services reduce the risk of subsequent maltreatment, although there is some promising evidence on the role of child care. Many families receive few services beyond periodic visits by usually overburdened caseworkers, and the services they do receive are often poor in quality. Preventive services for lower-risk families often focus on increasing parents’ understanding of the developmental stages of childhood and on improving their child-rearing competencies. The evidence base on the effectiveness of these services remains thin. Most research focuses on home-visiting and parent education programs. Studies of home visiting have provided some promising evidence. Little is as yet known about the effects of parent education. Waldfogel concludes that researchers have much more to learn about what services CPS agencies should expand to do a better job of preventing maltreatment. Some families, especially those with mental health, substance abuse, and domestic violence problems, are at especially high risk, which suggests that more effective treatment services for such parents could help. Very young children, too, are at high risk, suggesting a potentially important role for child care—one area where the evidence base is reasonably strong in pointing to a potential preventive role. Although preventive services for the lower-risk cases not open for services with CPS are much more widespread today than in the past, analysts must explore what CPS agencies can do in this area too to ensure that they are delivering effective services.
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