This paper provides an overview of child maltreatment within a public health framework, based on the Closing Plenary Address presented at the 1999 Joint Meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Canadian Academy of Child Psychiatry. A brief historical perspective is followed by a discussion of the burden of suffering associated with child maltreatment. Evidence about the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect is reviewed.
Evidence supports a program of nurse home visits as effective in preventing abuse and neglect among first-time, at-risk mothers. Sexual abuse education programs improve children's knowledge and prevention skills; whether such programs reduce the occurrence of child sexual abuse remains to be established. In the area of treatment, therapeutic daycare programs improve cognitive skills among physically abused and neglected children. Abuse-specific cognitive-behaviour therapy has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms among sexually abused children in both preschool and older age groups. Further research is necessary across all subcategories of child maltreatment, particularly neglect and emotional abuse.