We reviewed research that has evaluated prevention programs for child abuse and neglect. A few universal educational and parenting programs (e.g., abusive head trauma educational programs, enhanced pediatric care interventions) have been found to be effective. Moreover, a few selective home visitation programs (e.g., the Nurse-Family Partnership program), have shown evidence that they can prevent child abuse and neglect. As well, there is some evidence that multi-component programs are successful. Finally, the research on the importance of program length and intensity as a moderator of program effectiveness is mixed. While the evidence base of effective prevention programs for child abuse and neglect is growing, current interventions are more likely to be program-focused than policy-focused, selective than universal, ameliorative than transformative, and directed at the micro-level than the macro-level. Unless prevention programs are accompanied by social policies that have an agenda of social justice, poverty reduction, and community capacity-building, their potential to prevent child abuse will be seriously challenged.

Key Take Away Points

  • There is modest evidence that child physical abuse and neglect can be prevented.
  • Effective universal prevention program models include education about abuse head trauma, the Triple P parenting program, and enhanced pediatric care.
  • Effective selective prevention program models include some home visitation and multi-component program programs (i.e., the Nurse-Family Partnership model and the Chicago Child Parent Centers program).
  • Some program models show promise but need to be replicated.
  • More attention needs to be paid to program fidelity research and scaling up successful programs.
  • More macro-social, transformative policy interventions need to be pursued and evaluated.

Author Biography

Geoffrey Nelson is Professor of Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario. He was the recipient in 1999 of the Harry MacNeill award for innovation in community mental health from the American Psychological Foundation and the 2013 award for Distinguished Contributions to Theory and Research in Community Psychology. Rachel Caplan is a Ph.D. Student in Community Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University who is interested in children, prevention, and homelessness.


We thank the reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Correspondence should be sent to Geoffrey Nelson, Professor, Department of Psychology, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 3C5. Email: gnelson@wlu.ca



Responses to this Article:

Philip V. Scribano, The Path to Effective Child Maltreatment Prevention Strategies (May 2014)