Improving measurement of child abuse and neglect: A systematic review and analysis of national prevalence studies
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OBJECTIVES: Child maltreatment through physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and exposure to domestic violence, causes substantial adverse health, educational and behavioural consequences through the lifespan. The generation of reliable data on the prevalence and characteristics of child maltreatment in nationwide populations is essential to plan and evaluate public health interventions to reduce maltreatment. Measurement of child maltreatment must overcome numerous methodological challenges. Little is known to date about the extent, nature and methodological quality of these national studies. This study aimed to systematically review the most comprehensive national studies of the prevalence of child maltreatment, and critically appraise their methodologies to help inform the design of future studies. METHODS: Guided by PRISMA and following a published protocol, we searched 22 databases from inception to 31 May 2019 to identify nationwide studies of the prevalence of either all five or at least four forms of child maltreatment. We conducted a formal quality assessment and critical analysis of study design. RESULTS: This review identified 30 national prevalence studies of all five or at least four forms of child maltreatment, in 22 countries. While sound approaches are available for different settings, methodologies varied widely in nature and robustness. Some instruments are more reliable and obtain more detailed and useful information about the characteristics of the maltreatment, including its nature, frequency, and the relationship between the child and the person who inflicted the maltreatment. Almost all studies had limitations, especially in the level of detail captured about maltreatment, and the adequacy of constructs of maltreatment types. CONCLUSIONS: Countries must invest in rigorous national studies of the prevalence of child maltreatment. Studies should use a sound instrument containing appropriate maltreatment constructs, and obtain nuanced information about its nature.
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