Journal Issue: Preventing Child Maltreatment Volume 19 Number 2 Fall 2009
Deborah Daro and Kenneth Dodge observe that efforts to prevent child abuse have historically focused on directly improving the skills of parents who are at risk for or engaged in maltreatment. But, as experts increasingly recognize that negative forces within a community can overwhelm even well-intentioned parents, attention is shifting toward creating environments that facilitate a parent’s ability to do the right thing. The most sophisticated and widely used community prevention programs, say Daro and Dodge, emphasize the reciprocal interplay between individual-family behavior and broader neighborhood, community, and cultural contexts.
The authors examine five different community prevention efforts, summarizing for each both the theory of change and the empirical evidence concerning its efficacy. Each program aims to enhance community capacity by expanding formal and informal resources and establishing a normative cultural context capable of fostering collective responsibility for positive child development.
Over the past ten years, researchers have explored how neighborhoods influence child development and support parenting. Scholars are still searching for agreement on the most salient contextual factors and on how to manipulate these factors to increase the likelihood parents will seek out, find, and effectively use necessary and appropriate support.
The current evidence base for community child abuse prevention, observe Daro and Dodge, offers both encouragement and reason for caution. Although theory and empirical research suggest that intervention at the neighborhood level is likely to prevent child maltreatment, designing and implementing a high-quality, multifaceted community prevention initiative is expensive. Policy makers must consider the trade-offs in investing in strategies to alter community context and those that expand services for known high-risk individuals. The authors conclude that if the concept of community prevention is to move beyond the isolated examples examined in their article, additional conceptual and empirical work is needed to garner support from public institutions, community-based stakeholders, and local residents.