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Identifying risk for and preventing child maltreatment in Early Head Start families

Grace Hubel, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Infants and toddlers living in poverty are at increased risk for child maltreatment (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2013), an experience that poses direct threats to development of child competence (Shonkoff, et al., 2012). Given the accumulative and complex nature of risk for maltreatment, effective preventative interventions must start early and be comprehensive (Daro & Donnelly, 2002). While the goals of Early Head Start present promise for strengthening families in a manner that prevents child abuse and neglect, the relationship between program participation and occurrence of maltreatment has not been examined. The primary objective of the current study was to examine the presence of risk for child maltreatment among Early Head Start families and the program's ability to reduce this risk and instances of maltreatment. Archival data on 316 Early Head Start families and their participation in a local program, along with Juvenile Court records of instances of maltreatment, were utilized. Further, qualitative interviews exploring program engagement were conducted with 10 parents currently participating in Early Head Start. Results indicate a high level of risk for maltreatment and occurrence of court-substantiated maltreatment for 11.08% of the sample. Accumulation of risk factors was associated with increased likelihood of occurrence of maltreatment. Components of the Early Head Start program were associated with reduction in risk for maltreatment for the total sample and in reduction of causes of HHS custody of children for court-referred families. However, no relationship was observed between Early Head Start component participation and reduction in occurrence of maltreatment, a finding that may partially be explained by a surveillance effect. The qualitative data provide rich information on the multifaceted process of engagement. Overall, results of the study provide insight into the struggles associated with living in poverty and how early intervention can prevent these challenges from interfering with parent's abilities to provide nurturing early care environments for their children.

Subject Area

Early childhood education|Developmental psychology|Clinical psychology|Individual & family studies

Recommended Citation

Hubel, Grace, "Identifying risk for and preventing child maltreatment in Early Head Start families" (2014). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3637681.