Though millions of dollars have been invested and countless initiatives have been developed to “fix” children and youth in the child welfare system, maybe Desiderius Erasmus said it best and “prevention is better than [a] cure.” If so, then efforts have been made at the wrong end of the system.
Research finds that families are better served when children and youth can remain in their family and community, wrapped in strength-based preventative services. Successful child abuse preventions need to reduce risk factors and promote protective factors to ensure the well-being of our most vulnerable children and families.
Let’s unpack what that jargon means…
Our current system response to child abuse and neglect is to “fix” families who are the “recipients” of services. A strengths-based wrap-around approach, instead, builds on families’ natural and community support systems, engaging them as active participants in decision-making, goal-setting and outcome achievement.
Instead of targeting a family’s weaknesses, the wrap-around process is strength-based and solution-driven, and families feel trusted and respected and are more likely to engage in open and honest communication about their needs. When families are invested in their child-safety plans, they are more likely to commit to achieving objectives and complying with treatments that address these needs. As a result, families are better equipped to overcome the factors that initially led to state involvement, thus preventing future instances of abuse.
A financial argument could also be made for child abuse prevention. Prevention reduces the overall cost of child welfare services by reducing reliance on out-of-home care and on law enforcement and judicial system costs for interventions and it reduces the cost of behavioral and physical health costs for children in the system.
Investing in child abuse prevention is a savings to the state—both in the financial sense and in the human cost.