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November 2004Vol. 5, No. 9Strengthening Families Through Early Care and Education

The Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) has developed a new strategy to build on evidence-based protective factors for children and families to prevent the occurrence child abuse and neglect. Information on the CSSP website suggests this strategy, referred to as "Strengthening Families Through Early Care and Education," differs from past efforts in that:

  • It is based in the early childhood education (ECE) system.
  • It focuses on building protection for children within their homes and communities, not only on identifying risks in their homes and communities.
  • It seeks to overcome or mitigate manageable individual causes of child neglect and abuse such as parental isolation, lack of knowledge about child development, and mental, physical, or financial crisis in the family, rather than removing children from their homes.

CSSP has been studying the role of early care and education in helping to prevent child abuse and neglect and strengthen families since 2001. They find this environment a promising one for prevention due to the relationships between caregiver/teacher and parent, the opportunity for daily observations with parents, the resources early childhood programs provide for parents, and the fact that parents are bringing their children to these programs by choice rather than as recipients of services.

CSSP lists the following as additional advantages of this strategy:

  • It is doable. Most ECE programs can make additions or enhancements to current activities and curricula to introduce this prevention method.
  • It is affordable. Both public and private programs can add prevention components rather inexpensively. In addition, some State welfare officials are looking into whether child abuse and neglect funds may be used more effectively if this new strategy is applied at an early age.
  • It has widespread support. CSSP is working closely with social science researchers, State welfare officials, and early childhood programs to create a strategic framework around policy development.
  • The new early childhood workforce is ready to go to work. A study conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) showed that 97 percent of teachers and administrators want to do more to prevent child maltreatment and would want prevention training if it were available.

Evidence has shown that this approach can have an impact on child abuse and neglect rates. An 18-year longitudinal study at the University of Wisconsin found resource coordinators in federally funded childcare programs in Chicago helped parents obtain services they needed to care for their children at home. Children who attended this preschool intervention program had a 52 percent lower rate of maltreatment by age 17 than those who did not.

For more information about Strengthening Families Through Early Care and Education, visit the CSSP website at (Editor's note: This link is no longer active. To learn about CSSP's Strengthening Families initiative, visit

Related Items

For more information on the study conducted by the University of Wisconsin, read "Study Shows Preschool Can Help Prevent Child Abuse" in the March 2003 issue of Children's Bureau Express.

In 2002, NAEYC embarked on a national initiative to help early childhood educators play a key role in the primary prevention of child abuse and neglect. Find more about the initiative, Supporting Teachers, Strengthening Families, on the NAEYC website at