Experts in the field have been at odds over whether treatments for child abuse and neglect are valuable, says Dr. Elizabeth A. Skowron, assistant professor of counseling psychology in Penn State's College of Education. This study, the most comprehensive analysis of interventions for child maltreatment to date, suggests that these treatments are helpful in reducing cognitive, psychosocial injuries that result from child abuse and neglect.
"We found that the majority of studies we examined included family members in the treatments along with the abused child, and these proved to be among the most effective," Skowron notes."On the other hand, we found no conclusive evidence that treatments can or can not prevent future recurrence of abuse or neglect."
The researchers analyzed 21 of the most rigorously conducted studies of interventions for child maltreatment, targeting approximately 1,000 clients, and compared clients, both mandated and volunteer, who had received psychological treatment with those who had not. On average, individuals involved in a counseling or therapeutic program were better off than 71 percent of those who did not experience treatment -- in terms of various psychological, cognitive and behavioral outcomes (e.g. anxiety, depression, aggressiveness, etc.).
Skowron is co-author of the paper, "Effectiveness of Psychological Interventions for Child Maltreatment: A Meta-Analysis," in the spring issue of the journal Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice and Training, published by the American Psychological Association. Her co-author was Dr. Dawn H.S. Reinemann, a school psychologist with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The researchers reviewed the most exhaustive studies to date on a variety of psychological interventions for child abuse and neglect that were published in professional journals and other media from 1970 to the end of 2000.
The Penn State researcher cautions against assuming class stereotypes when professionals examine the family environment of maltreated children. For instance, psychological neglect occurs in families of all socio-economic backgrounds, from lower class families to middle and upper class families.
"Although the prevention and eradication of child abuse and neglect is a high-priority societal goal, the fact remains that an overwhelming number of youth will become victims," Skowron says. "Results of the current study indicate that psychological treatments for child abuse and neglect are effective and can assist children and their families to regain their functioning and facilitate the development of healthy, productive lives."