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  • October 5, 2018
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Child abuse prevention is underfunded and unfocused, study says

Lack of coordination, missing targets and lack of funds threaten policy success

Only a third of child abuse prevention policies in Europe are fully funded, and a mere 6% include specific targets to reduce child maltreatment, new research reveals.

Despite growing commitment on the part of governments to tackle child maltreatment, the WHO study shows that significant gaps in funding, a lack of clear targets and poor co-operation between departments threaten the effectiveness of many national policies.

“We are concerned that only about a third of policies had a clearly allocated budget. Budgets mean that countries can actually implement prevention programs, and targets are vital in knowing if actions are actually working,” said Dinesh Sethi, former Program Manager for Violence and Injury Prevention at WHO Europe and co-author of the research.

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Researchers conducted a content analysis of 68 national policies and action plans from 40 European states between 2000 and 2016.

The study sought to determine the rigour and completeness of policies aimed at preventing child maltreatment.

Despite three-quarters of countries having some form of action plan or national policy in place, many were far from comprehensive.

“Without access to adequate resources, interventions and strategies will struggle to be implemented — increasing the risk that the policy will fail,” the report concludes.

“We are concerned that only about a third of policies had a clearly allocated budget”

Resources aside, the authors were also concerned about gaps in the methods recommended in the national plans.

Only 8% of countries included hospital-based interventions, despite strong evidence that such policies can significantly reduce abusive head injuries in infants and young children caused by shaking.

Under a quarter of countries specified any home-visiting interventions to prevent child maltreatment in the home.

Sethi said: “Progress is being made and child maltreatment is being prioritised in a way that it deserves. In the last five years, more countries have developed action plans — and there has been an increase in the number of countries that have banned corporal punishment.

“But there is still an issue of ownership. When multiple sectors are involved it’s very easy for welfare departments to say this is a health issue and for the health sector to say this is a justice issue.

“If policymakers dont work on these issues together, then [preventing child maltreatment] falls through the gaps.”

The report criticised the competitive approach of different government agencies.

“Categorical, ‘siloed’ approaches which are competitive, with each entity trying to preserve what is ‘theirs’ rather than [engaging in] collaborative approaches, doom interventions to fail,” said the report.

Greater leadership and involvement from the health sector is a pressing priority, the report claimed, with only 16% of policies falling under the remit of the Ministry of Health.

“Without access to adequate resources, interventions and strategies will struggle to be implemented — increasing the risk that the policy will fail”

“In terms of responding to child maltreatment, a lot of the detection and some of the response are very much in the remit of the health sector. That’s where prevention can happen,” said Sethi.

The problem, researchers argue, is urgent.

Current data from Europe suggests that 23% of children experience physical abuse. Just over 13% of girls and almost 6% of boys experience sexual abuse.

“This is costing our societies around 2% of GDP: if we really want to develop properly and invest in the future, then investing in this work is crucial,” said Sethi.

Studies from 2012 and 2015 found that child maltreatment in Germany and Italy alone costs a combined total of between 11 and 30 billion euros annually. — Edward Siddons

(Picture credit: Pexels)

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