Helping children who have been maltreated

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Schwartz, C., Barican, J., Yung, D., Gray-Grant, D., & Waddell, C. (2018). Helping children who have been maltreated. Children’s Mental Health Research Quarterly, 12(4), 1–20. Vancouver, BC: Children’s Health Policy Centre, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University.


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Background: Child maltreatment is an avoidable form of adversity that puts children at risk for negative mental health and life course outcomes making prevention imperative. Nevertheless, when maltreatment has occurred, interventions can help reduce harm for children while also supporting parents.

Methods: We used systematic review methods to identify randomized control trials (RCTs) evaluating interventions for children who have been maltreated. Applying our inclusion criteria to the 68 studies identified from our searches, we accepted seven RCTs.

Results: Six interventions showed benefits. Promoting First Relationships reduced child apprehensions due to maltreatment and improved children’s behaviour and emotional responses. Child-Parent Psychotherapy increased children’s “secure attachment” to their mothers and improved their behaviour. Project Support reduced physical abuse among children exposed to intimate partner violence and improved children’s behaviour and emotional well-being. Multisystemic Therapy reduced re-abuse and out-of-home placements; it also reduced child posttraumatic stress, dissociation, and other emotional and behavioural problems. Fostering Healthy Futures reduced placement changes as well as child dissociation and emotional distress. Finally, It’s My Turn Now reduced children’s posttraumatic stress symptoms.

Conclusions: The best way to help children flourish is to support families to meet children’s basic needs, including preventing maltreatment. When children have been mistreated, practitioners should intervene before mental health symptoms develop given that emotional or behavioural problems can be prevented. Finally, children who have been maltreated and then develop emotional or behavioural symptoms need to receive effective interventions as quickly as possible.

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