Risk and Protective Factors

Reducing child abuse and neglect 90% by 2030 is clearly a challenging task. Some people we talk to say they feel overwhelmed at the thought of it – it seems too large and too complicated. Where do we begin? What are the most important things to do to give us the best chance to reach this goal in Lane County?

The good news is that we are not just starting this effort. We have looked across the country and the world to find individual actions or strategies that have worked elsewhere – or have failed elsewhere to prevent abuse and neglect – and we are learning from those efforts. This large body of research and practical experience gives us much to draw on – we have many parts of the solution.

Our task at 90by30 is to assemble the parts, the ones that have been proven to work, into a well-coordinated and strategic plan – and then implement that plan. What we have learned from the prevention efforts of the past 20 years is that an effective plan begins with identifying risk and protective factors for the population we want to help – in our case children and youth.

Risk factors are those things that are known to increase the odds for a bad or negative outcome, such as smoking is a risk factor for lung cancer.

Protective factors are those things that are known to lower the odds for a negative or bad outcome – such as regular exercise is a known protective factor for obesity. Protective factors both act as a way to prevent bad or negative outcomes but also help us achieve good outcomes – such as better health and more well-being.

Due to a large body of evidence from research, many risk and protective factors for child abuse and neglect are now well established.

For example, living in a warm and connected neighborhood, where people feel cared for and know each other, is a key child abuse and neglect protective factor. But if you look at the other side of that same coin – financial stress, social isolation, alcohol and drug abuse, and community inaction and silence about child abuse – these are all risk factors for child abuse and neglect.

Risk and protective factors point us toward solutions with true possibilities. Because they have been much studied and researched, protective and risk factors bring a clear vision to a very complex task.

With this vision in mind, a key part of achieving our goal of 90by30 is to increase the known protective factors and reduce or entirely do away with risk factors within and across Lane County neighborhoods and communities. Using the 90by30 plan for taking on risk factors and promoting protective factors, all people in Lane County can find a role for themselves that fits their own interests and skills.

Over the last 10-15 years, many risk and protective factor “frameworks” have been developed relating to children and to abuse and neglect. 90by30 has chosen three in particular as being very useful for our efforts:

  1. Communities that Care targets risk and protective factors for youth drug use. These factors can be adapted for child abuse and neglect prevention.
  2. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, along with Strengthening Families and the Center for the Study of Social Policy have identified key protective factors for child abuse prevention efforts with families, such as increasing the knowledge of parents and caregivers about child development or helping to end the isolation of parents so that they have more support in their lives.
  3. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified individual, family and community-level risk and protective factors. The CDC, in partnership with the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child and the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University give special attention to promoting safe, stable and nurturing relationships between children and their caregivers.