WASHINGTON, Dec. 9 – A study published today in The Lancet medical journal reveals that, despite years of effort to develop and improve national policy on child maltreatment intervention in several wealthy countries, including the United States, little has changed in the overall child maltreatment trends in these countries.
John Fluke, Ph.D., vice president of American Humane Association's Children's Innovation Institute, and one of the co-authors of the study, “Child maltreatment: variation in trends and policies in six developed countries,” notes that there is little evidence from the data to indicate that any specific policy has either reduced or increased maltreatment levels over the past two decades. The countries examined in the study, and represented by the co-authors, are the U.S., Australia (Western Australia), Canada (Manitoba), England, New Zealand and Sweden.
“The results of our study indicate that new laws and regulations and punitive approaches don't appear to have made a difference in reducing the incidence of child abuse and neglect in these countries,” Fluke said. “American Humane Association believes that what is needed to reduce child maltreatment are social service systems that support the families in the child protection system and ensure access to needed services.”
According to the data, the U.S. generally has up to five times the level of social service indicators of maltreatment compared to four of the six countries. The U.S. also has up to five times greater levels of violent deaths of children compared to all but one other country, New Zealand. However, despite significantly greater levels of violent injury deaths in the U.S., child health indicator rates of maltreatment-related injury admissions to hospitals are among the lowest.
When viewed along with U.S. levels of child poverty, which are greater than in any of the other five countries, and the difficulties that poor families have in accessing health care in the U.S., these data may offer possible reasons for high levels of injury deaths and relatively high levels of social service involvement.
“This study shows that the policy approaches adopted thus far in the U.S. have at best maintained the current level of child safety for many years,” said Robin R. Ganzert, Ph.D., American Humane Association President and CEO. “But, as a caring, compassionate nation, we must do much better than that for America's children and families. It is obvious now that focusing significantly more attention on policies tied to preventing child maltreatment is needed.”
Unique features of this multinational research effort, which was conducted over the course of approximately two years, include the comparison among six high-income countries, the first use of multiple health and social services indicators of maltreatment comprising different views of maltreatment incidence, and the comparison of different age groups of maltreated children across time. The complete article can be accessed in The Lancet online at http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2811%2961087-8/fulltext.
On a related topic, Fluke is among several experts providing input for the U.S. Government Evidence Summit on Children Outside of Family Care, convened by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the National Institutes of Health. Held in Washington, D.C., Dec. 12-13, the summit will help set U.S. foreign aid policy going forward in the area of child protection. Fluke chairs a team addressing the question, “What systems/strategies/ interventions are effective for sustainable long-term care and protection of children with a history of living outside family care?” He will present the recommendations to the summit audience, which will include U.S. government policymakers and programmers, as well as international practitioners.