Prevention is an action or a set of actions designed to stop something before it actually occurs. The prevention of child abuse and neglect is a complex problem needing a whole set of strategies and actions to be successful in stopping maltreatment from occurring. In general, prevention includes a wide range of activities – known as “interventions” or “strategies” aimed at reducing risks or threats to our health and well-being. In the public health approach to prevention, efforts are usually defined by the three categories of: Primary Prevention (intervening before abuse occurs), Secondary Prevention (interventions targeted at ‘at risk’ groups) and Tertiary Prevention (interventions provided to those who have experienced abuse or neglect to prevent further harm).
A focus on primary prevention is supported by research that demonstrates the value and significance of early intervention and comprehensive approaches involving a range of child and family welfare sectors to produce positive outcomes for children. The concept of child wellbeing demands a holistic approach that would integrate the three levels of the public health model of service delivery, into broader social issues and service systems. In order to reduce the prevalence of child abuse and neglect, child protection needs to evolve from a response-to-risk approach to a broader notion of ‘child wellbeing’, with a focus on family support, child abuse and neglect prevention and early intervention programs.
The need for prevention and early intervention is highlighted by the fact that child maltreatment is often a recurring issue in families, sometimes becoming chronic with multiple adverse events contributing to repeated abuse. The likelihood of abuse and neglect leading to negative physical, cognitive, psychological, behavioural and social consequences in adulthood underlines the importance of prevention.