Tag Archives: community treatment

Community environments protect against child maltreatment

On November 19, an international coalition of NGOs used World Day for Prevention of Child Abuse to host events about and bring attention to a threat faced by children all over the world. While most child abuse and neglect prevention strategies focus on parents – by educating them on parenting methods or treating underlying risk factors such as alcohol abuse – this coalition instead addresses the wider culture. This strategy holds that a supportive community can lead parents to make better parenting choices and can help them overcome challenges, whereas negative societal influence can overwhelm even well-intentioned parents.
In the latest The Future of Children volume, Preventing Child Maltreatment, one article looked at the community’s role in preventing child abuse from taking place. The authors found that social environment affects norms about appropriate child-raising behaviors and the acceptability of parents seeking external support when encountering challenges. In addition, positive interactions between neighbors increase the likelihood that parents will feel responsible for and act to protect all children in the neighborhood, whereas isolating and unfriendly neighborhoods may increase parental stress and their tendencies to neglect or mistreat their children. Formal community services can improve parents’ mental health and parenting capabilities and provide temporary relief from parental responsibilities.
The article highlights some innovative community programs that are designed to change a community’s atmosphere and norms to reduce child maltreatment. For instance, Triple-P in South Carolina has offered community-level information campaigns and parenting advice sessions through existing institutions such as child care centers and preschools. The Durham Family Initiative in North Carolina expands the availability of community services and uses outreach workers to build relationships in at-risk communities, address neighborhood needs, and build human capital through leadership and mentoring programs. Both these and other programs have shown promising results in reducing child abuse and neglect cases — suggesting that well-informed, well-equipped, and socially cohesive neighborhoods aid child wellbeing.
These programs face major challenges, however; costs can be significant, and changing behavior and investing in social networks can be difficult. In addition, more work needs to focus on which communities are most in need of such programs and most likely to benefit from them. Of course, individual factors play a major role in child maltreatment cases, so a community approach alone cannot solve problems of child abuse and neglect. Still, building up a supportive community is an important step toward protecting children.

Partnering with Community Mental Health Services Aids Juvenile Justice System

A youth diagnosed with bipolar disorder and accused of breaking and entering approaches the court. The judge faces a choice: place him in underfunded mental health care in the community, where he may not receive the treatment he needs, or put him in the juvenile justice system, where he may be adversely affected by the criminality surrounding him. The New York Times recently profiled one such youth, Daniel, who has been in juvenile detention for two years because authorities felt he would receive better treatment there than in his home in Ohio. The Future of Children examined this topic in a recent volume on Juvenile Justice. The volume’s article on mental health found that youth would benefit from better evaluation of mental disorders and from more cooperation between mental health and correctional agencies.
Currently, many systems operate independently to help at-risk youth. Juvenile justice, mental health, education, and child protection institutions all treat youth separately, despite these issues’ interconnectedness. For instance, half to two-thirds of children in juvenile justice custody meet criteria for mental disorders – two-thirds of these for at least two disorders. Both institutional limitations and a lack of standards prevent court authorities from determining which youth would benefit most from community-based treatment, which might be harmed from exposure to prisons, and which pose safety risks to society that necessitate their isolation. This leaves the juvenile justice system to handle many youth who might respond better to mental health treatment outside of detention.
Mitigation of these issues begins with evaluating and sorting criminally detained youth using evidence-based methods that have recently become available. Those deemed not to be dangerous but who have long-term mental health needs, particularly those charged with lesser crimes, should be directed to proven community-based treatment programs. Not only have some of these programs been shown to help improve mental health, but they also reduce recidivism and anti-social behaviors. Youth with mental health disorders that are sentenced to detention should also receive better mental health treatment. Detention centers can partner with community groups to bring professionals into detention centers and offer specialized services to youth with severe difficulties.
Everyone benefits from collaboration between juvenile justice facilities and community mental health programs: courts can direct youth to appropriate services, the community is safer as recidivism declines, and troubled youth receive the treatment they need in order to adjust to a healthful lifestyle.