Making the Case: “Prevention Programs and Strategies: State Legislative Experiences” by Kelly Crane

Author’s note: Approximately 772,000 children were victims of maltreatment in the United States in 20081, with child abuse and neglect costing the United States an estimated 103 billion dollars each year in treatment and services to families2. Effective state-level services and supports for children and their families can assist in reducing the human and financial costs of child maltreatment.

State lawmakers play a critical role in state child welfare systems by leading efforts to seek new policies and strategies for families and children affected by abuse and neglect, including the development of prevention programs. It is work that is especially important in tight budget times for states. What follows is an overview of strategies drawn from the innovative policy work undertaken by state lawmakers across the country that legislators can use to support prevention efforts. A review of recent state legislation reveals a number of approaches that have been implemented by states, including:

  • Home visitation
  • Safe Haven laws intended to prevent unsafe abandonment of newborns
  • Shaken Baby Syndrome prevention programs
  • Creation of prevention focused task forces and councils

Home visitation programs

Home visitation has become an important part of child welfare family support and family preservation efforts, providing support services in the home and connecting isolated families to resources in the community. Nearly every state has enacted legislation around home visitation programs, including Pennsylvania in which grants were established for home visitation services to at-risk expectant mothers and in Washington where research-based home visitation programs and a study of child abuse prevention efforts were authorized. The increased interest among policymakers in home visiting programs has ignited a number of research efforts which have proven the programs to be an effective method of reaching children and families early. In fact, the National Health Care Reform Act (H.R. 3590) supports efforts by states to invest in home visitation programs by establishing a $1.5 billion federal grant program for state-based home visiting programs serving families with young children and families expecting children.

Safe Haven Laws

All 50 states have enacted legislation to address the public abandonment of infants and to prevent child maltreatment. Infant Safe Haven laws have been enacted as an option for mothers in crisis to safely relinquish their newborn children to designated locations where the babies are protected and provided with medical care until a permanent home is found. Safe Haven laws allow the parent to remain anonymous and to be shielded from prosecution for abandonment or neglect in exchange for safely surrendering the infant to an approved safe haven.

Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention Programs

Prevention policies that state lawmakers are examining include Shaken Baby Syndrome prevention programs. Shaken Baby Syndrome covers a variety of symptoms associated with the violent shaking of an infant or young child. Prevention efforts typically include educating new parents on the dangers of Shaken Baby Syndrome and providing them with coping strategies to assist with parental frustration. Approximately 20 states have enacted laws related to Shaken Baby Syndrome prevention education.

Prevention Councils

A number of states have implemented legislation to assist in the creation of prevention councils or task forces. The goals in the establishment of these councils vary by state, with the most common objectives being to create a statewide child abuse prevention strategy, develop a plan for establishing family resource centers, coordinate and encourage a continuum of prevention services for children and families, and/or to assist in the appropriation of funds for prevention programs. New Jersey created a Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect which has made grants available from their Children’s Trust Fund for child abuse and neglect prevention programs; the New Jersey task force has also developed a statewide public education program on child abuse prevention.

Across the nation, a wide variety of approaches are being used to help promote nurturing environments for families and that have generated significant support over time. Child abuse prevention involves parent education and raising public awareness about ways to prevent serious and often life-threatening injuries from occurring in the first place. While states work to identify effective strategies to respond to child abuse and neglect, the overarching goal is to end child maltreatment altogether.

For more from Kelly Crane, including a detailed question and answer session, read the full “Prevention Programs and Strategies” paper.


  1. Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.
  2. The Estimated Cost of Child Abuse and Neglect economic impact study by Prevent Child Abuse America.



Related Resources

Making the Case Series

Making the Case: “Why Prevention Matters”

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