This paper provides an overview of the risk and protective factors for child abuse and neglect. It is important that practitioners and policy-makers working with children and families operate from a broad understanding of these risk and protective factors and the ways in which they interact.
Understanding the risk and protective factors for child abuse and neglect is important for developing effective prevention interventions for vulnerable families. Although child protection authorities use specific risk assessment instruments to determine if a child is at risk of maltreatment, it is beneficial for all professionals who work with families to have a broad, general understanding of the factors that may place children at risk of harm, the factors that can protect them from harm, and the ways in which these risk and protective factors tend to interact.
It is essential to keep in mind that while certain risk factors may exist among families where child abuse and neglect occurs, this does not mean that the presence of these factors necessarily leads to child abuse and neglect. In other words, the presence of one or more risk factors does not necessarily result in child abuse and neglect, just as the presence of protective factors does not guarantee that children will be kept safe. For instance, one risk factor is large family size. This should never be interpreted as meaning that all children in large families are at high risk of being subjected to maltreatment. It simply means that at the population level there is a statistical association between family size and child maltreatment. Child maltreatment occurs in a minority of families, and most people, even those experiencing many risk factors, do not abuse or neglect their children. Indeed, substantiated cases of child maltreatment can also occur in families that experience none of the commonly associated risk factors.