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Prevent Child Abuse America/Montana Institute Positive Community Norms Poll

Prevent Child Abuse America hired the Montana Institute (TMI) to conduct a nationwide Positive Community Norms (PCN) telephone poll of 1,000 American Adults in November, 2014. As a follow up to this research, Prevent Child Abuse America asked TMI to conduct a second national telephone survey of 500 American Adults in November and December of 2015. Both surveys were based on the Positive Community Norms approach to prevention, which shows that individual behaviors and attitudes are largely influenced by one’s perceptions of the normative (majority) behaviors and attitudes of their peers. The more accurately individual’s perceive positive norms, the more likely they are to behave in positive, healthy, and pro-social ways themselves.

This research shows that Americans do not see each other (or themselves) accurately when it comes to issues of child abuse and neglect. Since perceptions of norms have a powerful influence on individual belief and behavior, these misperceptions are critical levers for change. By closing misperception gaps it is possible to change and improve actual behavioral and attitudinal norms.

Because of differences in the questionnaires and the demographics of the respondents, these two studies should be treated as individual “snapshot” surveys, rather than as Time 1 and Time 2 administrations of the same study. Nonetheless, interesting comparisons can be made between the two: the first study showed that Americans feel “stuck” when it comes to intervening in suspicious situations; the second showed that, despite perceived barriers to intervention, Americans are nonetheless doing much more than they realize to prevent child abuse and neglect. Prevent Child Abuse America can build on the positive attitudinal and behavioral norms that already exist among American adults to encourage even more people to take action to support and protect children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified the promotion of Positive Community Norms as a key strategy for promoting safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments, which are central to preventing child abuse and neglect. A crucial component of this strategy is addressing community and societal issues from a positive frame. This shift in focus from reducing risk to increasing protections opens exciting new opportunities for preventing child abuse and neglect. In commissioning this work, Prevent Child Abuse America has become one of the first child welfare advocacy groups in the country to connect perceptions and misperceptions to the prevention of child abuse and neglect.

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