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Preventing Child Maltreatment and Neglect: New Directions for Successful Engagement and Retention of At-Risk Families


Child maltreatment continues to be a growing and a serious problem in the United States. Early prevention efforts are a cornerstone of inquiry among researchers across the country. Using secondary data analysis, this dissertation evaluates the effectiveness of a community-based, child maltreatment prevention program that emphasized parental collaboration (working as partner with agency worker) and parental empowerment (focusing on parenting strengths) in achieving successful rates of engagement and retention working with families at-risk for child maltreatment. Specifically, it is hypothesized that programs that utilize strategies focusing on parent strengths, community engagement, and available community resources in service planning and decision-making will have successful (met program goals/requirements) rates of family retention and engagement in child maltreatment and neglect prevention services. Further, the ability to achieve long term engagement and retention was hypothesized to be more related to the way the agency worker empowers the family to be self- sufficient rather than whether families were targeted for being at risk or universally selected to receive services. Data were collected from 170 families, who completed focus groups and surveys regarding their experiences in the Partnership for Families Program. Results from the surveys using a varimax factor analysis revealed three key components for successful engagement and retention of families receiving services in the prevention program: (a) a focus on parental strengths, (b) a focus on community engagement and (c) a focus on resource availability and awareness. Matched paired t-tests were conducted on each of the factors, with a resulting p<.001 for each. Findings from qualitative content analysis were consistent with quantitative results and suggest that parents' participation in services shapes the ways in which they engage their families and others. Based on this study, successful engagement of at-risk families and reduction of risk for child maltreatment may depend on emphasizing parental empowerment and well-being. The findings from this sample may not be representative of the larger population as participation was based on parent attendance, availability, and logistics. Future research should examine the roles of engagement, empowerment, and parental well-being with different sub-populations yielding greater diversity among participants with a random selection process.

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