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No consistent decrease in child maltreatment despite years of policy initiatives designed to achieve it

9 December 2011
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There has been no consistent decrease in child maltreatment over the last two decades, research published today in The Lancet has found.

Led by Professor Ruth Gilbert, University College London Institute of Child Health (ICH), the study concludes that despite numerous government policy initiatives designed to achieve a reduction in child maltreatment, none has proved successful.

The study used three types of child maltreatment indicators; 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 across six states and countries, England, Sweden, New Zealand, Western Australia, Manitoba (Canada) and the USA.

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.

Trends reflecting low levels of maltreatment in Sweden and high levels in the USA are consistent with lower rates of risk factors, such as child poverty, in Sweden compared with the USA. There is also better provision for parenting support in Sweden, compared with the States.

Professor Ruth Gilbert, professor of clinical epidemiology, ICH said: “Our results suggest the need to focus on preventing factors that contribute to child maltreatment, in order to substantially reduce rates of child maltreatment in the future.

“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.

“We would urge caution in the interpretation of these results. Small changes may not have been detected by the study.”

The funding for the study was provided by organisations including the Department of Health for England and the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy.

Contact information

For further information, including a copy of the research paper, please contact Hayley Dodman or Claire Brunert, UCL Institute of Child Health press office on 0207 239 3126/3178 or email hayley.dodman@gosh.nhs.uk / claire.brunert@gosh.nhs.uk

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Notes to editors

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