A study published last week in The Lancet reveals, despite policies meant to curb child maltreatment, it has not decreased in two decades.
The international study used information from England, USA, Sweden, New Zealand, Western Australia, and Canada-specifically Manitoba. It found physical abuse, neglect, and violent deaths in children mostly remained stable across the six nations.
The study says that despite numerous government policy initiatives designed to reduce child maltreatment, none has proven to be successful.
Three types of child maltreatment indicators were used in the study; violent deaths in children, injuries related to maltreatment, and involvement with child protection agencies.
The indicators were gathered from health and child protection agencies, and compared trends in children under 11 years of age. The study found large variations between the countries and states in the frequency of involvement with child protection agencies, but little difference between the rates of maltreatment-related injury or violent death.
Dr. Marni Brownell, researcher at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy in the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Medicine, is one of the authors of the paper. She says maltreatment-related injuries were similar in Manitoba compared to the other countries while rates of foster care were substantially higher in the province than in the other countries (for example: ten times higher than in Western Australia).
“We don’t actually know whether removing a child from his or her home results in better long-term outcomes,” says Brownell. “Focusing efforts on preventing factors that contribute to child maltreatment are needed in order to reduce child maltreatment rates.”
Child maltreatment was more strongly related to risk factors such as child poverty than any particular child welfare policy the study says. This was especially true in Sweden. The country showed consistently lower rates child poverty and had higher rates of parenting support.
In a prepared statement, the leading author of the study, Professor Ruth Gilbert from the Institute of Child Health (ICH) at University College London said: “For too long, policy has been driven by high profile deaths of individual children. We need to invest in population-based data to inform policy and to monitor trends. We also need to be able to link health and social care data to understand which professionals are seeing these children. Such linkage is done in Western Australia and Manitoba, where it is proving to be an important tool in the formulation of child health policy.”
MCHP is a research unit in the Department of Community Health Sciences in the Faculty of Medicine, at the University of Manitoba. Research scientists and their collaborators at MCHP study health services, population and public health, and the social determinants of health using data from the entire population of Manitoba. Most of the research answers questions of interest to policy makers based on a formal association with Manitoba Health and input from other government departments.
Dr. Marni Brownell is available for interviews. For more information, please contact Jack Rach, communications officer, Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, Community Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, at: 204-789-3669.