Many child maltreatment prevention programs are designed to reach the most at-risk families in a given area, but those families may also be the most challenging to reach and engage in long-term programming. Understanding the risk and protective factors present in families participating in programs and how those families compare to the risk profile of their broader communities can both inform our analyses of the success of outreach efforts and suggest paths to improve outreach. This study analyses data from Project HOPES, a multi-site, multi-intervention child maltreatment prevention program in Texas.
Parents who participated in child maltreatment prevention programs in 25 Texas counties were asked to complete a self-reported survey at the start of the program detailing their risk and protective factors for child maltreatment. Participation in the program and surveys were voluntary. Survey measures included the Protective Factors Survey; the Parents’ Assessment of Protective Factors Instrument subscales of family resources, social support, parental resilience, social connections, concrete support in times of need, and the social and emotional competence of children; the Adverse Childhood Experiences measure developed by the Centers for Disease Control; parents’ mental health measured by Mental Health Inventory 5; substance use measured by UNCOPE; Hurt, Insulted, Threatened with Harm and Screamed domestic violence screen; and neighborhood safety measured by the Perceived Neighborhood Quality/Health Scale. Descriptive statistics for each measure were calculated to describe the typical caregiver served by programming meant to reach “at risk” families. Measures were then stratified by a variety of grouping variables (e.g., county of residence) and, where available, compared to the population-level measures for that group (e.g., all residents of that county) to determine the degree to which outreach efforts were able to successfully locate and engage the most at-risk families in that group.
Results of these analyses reveal several important “both-and” findings. First, overall these programs are serving families who are truly at-risk of child maltreatment, and there is substantial variation both within a single county and between different counties in the type and degree of risk present in the families. Next, there are variables for which the families being served are on par with the most “at risk” in their communities, and there are measures by which it appears that these programs have failed to locate and engage the families most at risk in their communities. Finally, data analyzed in this study can suggest approaches to improve outreach and engagement, however more fine-grained analyses of qualitative/contextual data is needed to truly understand why some at-risk families were “missed” and how to improve.
Conclusions and Implications:
Child maltreatment prevention programming is successful at reaching at-risk families for child maltreatment, however there are still gaps in these efforts to engage families experiencing greatest risk. Identifying the most at-risk families help prioritize services for families who would benefit from services and thus show the greatest potential impact. More research is needed to understand outreach efforts to these populations and how to align services to engage these higher risk populations.