|Why Do Children and Families Need Our Help and Support?|
Certain protective factors have been identified to reduce risks, build family capacity and foster resilience. Characteristics have also been identified to increase the risk or potential for maltreatment. It is the role of the community-based family support programs to work with families to increase their protective factors against the occurrence of child abuse and neglect. By understanding risk and protective factors for children, families, and communities, programs will be better equipped to enhance protective factors and minimize risk factors for children and families.
Parent and family protective factors that increase safety for children include secure attachment between parents and children, parental reconciliation with their own childhood history of abuse, supportive family environment including those with two-parent households, household rules and monitoring of the child, extended family support, stable relationship with parents, family expectations of pro-social behavior, and high parental education.
Social and environmental risk factors that may protect children include having access to health care and social services, consistent parental employment, adequate housing, family participation in a religious faith, good schools, and supportive adults outside the family who serve as role models or mentors (Family Support Network, 2002).*
In order to effectively serve children and families, community programs must seek to identify and foster individual, family, cultural, and community strengths that increase resilience and counter or mediate individual risk and difficult life circumstances. Strength-based programs also actively engage parents in the process of identifying their own needs and strengths, making plans with staff for service delivery, and evaluating the extent to which those services are effective in meeting personal and program goals and outcomes.
There are also factors that tend to increase risk for child maltreatment. For example, evidence suggests that children’s age and gender are predictive of maltreatment risk. Younger children are also more likely to be neglected, while the risk for sexual abuse increases with age (Mraovick & Wilson, 1999). Poor child outcomes are more likely when families exhibit risk factors such as severe and chronic maternal mental illness; maternal anxiety and depression; mothers with less than a high school education; rigid attitudes, beliefs and values among parents; four or more children in the household; absence of immediate or extended family support; and stressful life events such as loss of employment, death, disability or physical illness (Sameroff, Seifer, Barocas, Zax and Greenspan, 1987).
Factors related to the community and the larger society also are linked with child maltreatment. Ecological factors such as narrow legal definitions of child maltreatment, social acceptance of violence (as evidenced by video games, television, films, and music lyrics), and political or religious views that value noninterference in families above all else, may be associated with child maltreatment (Tzeng, Jackson, & Karlson, 1991).
Children that have exhibited resilience in the face of maltreatment often possess personal characteristics that included a child 's ability to: recognize danger and adapt, distance oneself from intense feelings, create relationships that are crucial for support, and project oneself into a time and place in the future in which the perpetrator is no longer present (Mrazek & Mrazek, 1987).
* For additional information on risk and protective factors and types of prevention, please see the fact sheet on Risk and Protective Factors for Child Abuse and Neglect: http://www.childwelfare.gov/preventing/promoting/