A recent review found that child maltreatment continues to exist consistently in the six developed countries: the USA, England, New Zealand, Western Australia (Australia), Manitoba (Canada) and Sweden. Despite several policy initiatives for child protection, there appears to be no decline in child maltreatment.
Modern child protection systems took birth in the 1970s. Several policy changes were enacted since then with the aim of bringing down child maltreatment rates. A recent study of trends in six developed countries revealed disappointing results. Child maltreatment appears to be immune to all the measures taken so far.
AdvertisementThe prevalence of maltreatment-related injuries and violent deaths remained stable in most of these countries after the mid-nineties. Falling rates of violent death were noted in a few age and country groups. However, Sweden and Manitoba (Canada) were the only nations were these declines coincided with reductions in hospital admissions for maltreatment-related injury. Officially-recognized neglect or physical abuse primarily remained stable in the six countries.
In the USA violent deaths were five times higher than in Sweden or Australia, which had the lowest rates. Child protection investigations were significantly more prevalent in the USA and New Zealand compared with Western Australia. Parental risk factors, lower rates of child poverty, and policies providing greater levels of universal support for parenting in Sweden are responsible for the lower levels of maltreatment indices in Sweden than in the USA.
Rates for placement of children in out-of-home care increased in three of the six countries. These increases were highest for infants. Placement in out-of-home care was ten fold higher in Manitoba than in other counties. The study found robust evidence of increases in rates of infants placed outside of their homes in Western Australia, the USA, and Sweden.
There has been no overall decrease in child maltreatment despite decades of policy changes. Interventions seem to be failing to fulfil our hopes of impacting the desired reduction in child maltreatment rates. The current results could also be interpreted as the availability of improved recognition of maltreatment.
Policies appear to be effective in protection of some vulnerable groups of children, while failing to reach others. Out-of-home care appears to be on the increasing side of the curve. The authors of the report published in The Lancet, call for steps to improve the availability and quality of routine data for indicators of child maltreatment.
Reference: Child maltreatment: variation in trends and policies in six developed countries; The Lancet, Early Online Publication, 9 December 2011
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