Thousands of children experience maltreatment each year, many before they are old enough to walk. In 2014, the rate of substantiated child abuse was 9 per 1,000 children under 18, with the majority of victims under age 1. Police officers are often the first to respond, and even seasoned officers can find such cases complicated and unsettling. “I and many people on our police force still find child abuse neglect to be among the most difficult crimes we deal with,” Police Chief Phil J. Redington of Bettendorf, Iowa, wrote in a 2017 op-ed.
Redington is a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, an organization comprising more than 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, and violence survivors promoting solutions that steer kids away from crime. The organization views professional home visitors as community partners in the prevention of child maltreatment. Creating a more positive home life, they believe, can be tied to future reductions in crime.
The Child Maltreatment-Crime Connection
Indeed, there is a documented connection between child maltreatment and crime. The National Bureau of Economic Research found that children who experience it are twice as likely to commit a crime when they are older and that such crime costs society more than $6 billion per year.
A 2012 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and RTI International estimated that each victim of nonfatal child maltreatment cost society more than $200,000 on average. This total includes expenses in a range of areas, such as child welfare costs, adult medical fees, criminal justice costs, and losses in productivity.
A 2012 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and RTI International estimated that each victim of nonfatal child maltreatment cost society more than $200,000 on average.
In addition to the devastating personal and social costs, these figures beg the question: What can we do to prevent child maltreatment?
Home visiting is clearly part of the answer. Maltreatment is often related to a parent’s lack of knowledge about child development, a gap that home visitors seek to address through trusting, ongoing relationships. Home visitors teach participants how to care for their babies, for example, and what to expect when it comes to developmental milestones and behaviors. They also model positive parenting techniques that emphasize communication and responsiveness to children’s needs over physical punishment.
These efforts are promising. Studies of Healthy Families America, a home visiting model recognized as evidence based by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, show that parents who participate in home visiting are less likely to use harsh parenting tactics, neglect their children, or physically or psychological abuse their children when compared to their counterparts. Another study found that teens who received home visiting services through Nurse-Family Partnership as infants were less likely to be arrested and had fewer convictions and violations of probation 15 years later.
Home Visiting’s Role
In addition to the research, law enforcement officials see firsthand how home visiting can benefit their communities. Speaking at an event in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Lebanon County District Attorney David Arnold Jr. touted home visiting as a way to prevent crime. “We can’t arrest our ways out of any crime problems that we have and our primary goal, when possible, is to try to prevent crime from happening in the first place,” he said.
We can't arrest our ways out of any crime problems that we have and our primary goal, when possible, is to try to prevent crime from happening in the first place.
Lebanon County District Attorney
In Texas, Montgomery Sheriff Rand Henderson expressed his appreciation for home visiting as a complement to community policing. A 4-year-old boy whose father is arrested and sent to prison, he shared, can benefit from a home visitor who forms a trusting relationship with him and his family. “If we can keep kids on the right track, that’s our next generation of successful additions to our community,” he said.
The 2017 Home Visiting Yearbook explores how home visitors can strengthen families and help children and adults become productive members of their communities. Read Chapter One to see highlights from home visiting’s evidence base, including its demonstrated impact on critical needs.