Preventing violence is a task that begins in childhood. Two out of every three children and adolescents in Latin America and the Caribbean are victims of child abuse or violent discipline at home, according to the most recent statistics. This promotes the intergenerational transmission of violence and has a close link to other delinquent behaviors. A key to eradicating this type of violence lies in improving parenting practices, which requires institutional capacity to effectively implement social interventions.
Exposure to violence during childhood is an unfortunate violation of human rights that is associated with dramatic consequences throughout life:
- Child abuse is correlated with health problems, both physical and psychological, for the victims.
- Violence against children and adolescents increases the risk that minors will be exposed to criminal practices, have poor academic performance and/or access to employment.
- Childhood violence increases the likelihood that children will reproduce violent practices or be exposed to them as adults, perpetuating the intergenerational cycle of violence.
For these reasons, it is not surprising that one of the Sustainable Development Goals is to end child abuse and all forms of violence against children (SDG 16.2).
Achieving this objective is not easy. Still, a high proportion of adults who have minors in their care justify violence and affirm that physical punishment is necessary for a proper education.
How can improved parenting practices be promoted to eradicate violence by fathers, mothers and caregivers?
Strengthening institutional capacity to implement social interventions effectively is crucial. Therefore, the Inter-American Development Bank has recently evaluated two interventions that provide various lessons to advance in this direction. One of the interventions was carried out in Jamaica, and its objective was to reduce coercive practices among caregivers of children and adolescents aged 6 to 15 years old through home visitations and group workshops; and the second one was carried out in El Salvador, to promote positive parenting practices and manage stress in times of uncertainty among caregivers of children under 8 years old through the digital communication channel: WhatsApp.
1. Jamaica: from coercion to positive encouragement in children and adolescents
The high prevalence of violent disciplinary practices is a serious challenge in Jamaica. To address this challenge, Jamaica’s Ministry of National Security launched an intervention aimed at reducing coercive parenting practices among caregivers of children aged 6 to 15 years.
What did the initiative for reducing child abuse in Jamaica consist of?
This initiative provided home visits by a parenting trainer for six months and an invitation to attend three group workshop sessions in which social workers shared positive parenting practices with parents and caregivers. To enhance the reception and effectiveness of the intervention, the parenting trainers were selected from the same communities and received 60 hours of instruction on topics including self-care, understanding children, and providing guidance and motivation.
What were the results of the intervention on parenting practices and child abuse in Jamaica?
To assess the impact of the initiative, the prevalence of coercive parenting practices was measured before and after the interventions among those who received the intervention and a control group. The study showed a significant reduction in maltreatment. In particular, the intervention lowered the probability of parents shouting at and hitting their children for misbehavior from 32% to 35%.
In addition, as a result of the intervention, practices to positively encourage their children increased by 8%. Meanwhile, children also reported receiving less shouting and hitting (8% and 12% improvement in incidence rates, respectively).
Improvements were even greater in families with the most dysfunctional practices, indicating the potential for replication in communities and among vulnerable groups.
The COVID-19 pandemic worsened and increased cases of domestic violence, both to women and children. Confinement, social distancing, and restricted availability of social care services negatively impacted the mental health of caregivers, increasing the risk of child maltreatment.
To reduce the impact of this difficult situation, Glasswing International conducted a free digital intervention in El Salvador, documented and evaluated by the IDB in this study. Its objective was to help manage stress and deliver positive parenting techniques to caregivers of children under 8 years of age.
The intervention had two components:
- Skills to manage the stress generated by raising children: In this component, caregivers were given tools to identify stressors and techniques to improve their mental wellbeing, through exercises such as meditation, breathing and self-control.
- Positive parenting techniques: In this component, guidelines were provided to promote harmonious family life through techniques such as anticipation and perspective, which help to avoid punishment as a means of controlling children.
The group received all the information via text messages and/or WhatsApp, which made it possible to monitor who opened the messages and the contents.
What were the results of the intervention against child abuse in El Salvador?
Audience participation was high, with over 70% of caregivers opening the messages throughout the entire intervention.
Although caregivers showed more stress after the course, through follow-up surveys, they showed a 48% higher likelihood of understanding stress and using techniques to manage it, and a 7% greater adoption of positive parenting techniques compared to those who did not receive the content..
What can we learn from these interventions to prevent child abuse in Latin America and the Caribbean?
The examples discussed above illustrate interventions that can be adopted by different countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to reduce child abuse. Among the main challenges is finding ways to make these initiatives scalable at the national level and throughout the region, a task that is impossible without government support.
In addition to being able to generate information, guidance, and referral services for caregivers, as well as mechanisms for reporting and assistance in cases of violence against children, it is vital to continue implementing interventions to improve parenting practices in households and teaching practices in schools. To reduce crime and violence at its roots, it is essential – and constitutes a major challenge – to properly measure the prevalence of this type of violence to detect cases of child abuse in a timely manner.
The eradication of violence in Latin America and the Caribbean requires holistic mechanisms that help to end mistreatment from childhood. We need comprehensive assistance programs, with legal, psychological, medical, financial, housing, and other complementary services such as food, support, and referral. For this, it is crucial that both security and justice institutions, as well as those in the health and child protection sectors, work together and develop evidence-based public policies.
To learn more about these initiatives download our new publications: “Helping families help themselves? (Unintended effects of a digital parenting program“ and “Mitigating coercive parenting through home visits: the impacts of a parenting program targeting vulnerable communities in Jamaica“.