When people think about child abuse and neglect, they typically think about the worst cases – the ones that make the national news or involve criminal charges.

These kinds of situations are, however, relatively rare. The most common situations of child maltreatment look different. They involve parents who love their children, but who may face challenges themselves, such as trauma from their own childhoods, victimization as adults, mental illness, addiction, domestic violence, and often, poverty.

Stresses associated with poverty may create undue hardships for families that elevate risk to children and exacerbate other risk factors in the family.

For more than two decades, I have conducted research to understand poverty’s role in child maltreatment, and whether providing economic support for families in poverty has a preventive effect on child maltreatment.

Several things are clear:

  • Most families experiencing poverty do not maltreat their children; but for some families, economic strain does increase the risk of abuse and neglect, regardless of other family characteristics.
  • Interventions that have the effect of reducing poverty prevent some child maltreatment from occurring.
  • Few child maltreatment prevention programs involve strategies to systematically address the stresses of poverty.

I am passionate about helping the prevention services community develop such strategies, to build upon the important services they already provide.

As we come to understand risk factors involved in child maltreatment, and move away from the oversimplified view that only “bad parents” abuse and neglect their children, I believe we can produce a meaningful impact on child maltreatment trends during the next decade.