Public Health Approach to Prevention

There are many beliefs about children that most of us share – that kids deserve to grow up safe and healthy, and that if they are harmed, we, as a society, have a responsibility to support and help them after the fact.

In Lane County, as in most other places in the country, we have historically spent the majority of our time in that “after-the-fact” world of supporting children and their families when we identify that a child has been harmed in some way. The efforts of 90by30 don’t mean that we should stop supporting children suffering from neglect or harm. In fact, the organizations, family, and friends who do this work need our support – financial and otherwise – now more than ever.

The reason we formed 90by30 is in recognition of the fact that the work of supporting children and families – on its own – will not decrease child abuse and neglect. For that we need to focus more attention and local efforts on prevention.

There are many experts from different walks of life currently working on the issue of how to best prevent child neglect and abuse. The approach that we have chosen for 90by30 is from the public health model of prevention. These are the same people that wiped out small pox worldwide in a 20-year period when they recognized that immunizations could prevent the disease, which led to a global health effort to convince the world to get vaccinated. It worked.

Rotary International, using the same public health approach, has also nearly eliminated polio across the world.

In the public health approach, the steps to address a complex issue like child abuse are:

  1. Step one - Defining the Problem. Our problem is clear: There are more than a thousand Lane County children and youth who experience child abuse and/or neglect each year. This is something we know.
  2. The second step is to help everyone learn and understand what the reasons or factors are that lead to child neglect or abuse. Identifying “risk” and “protective” factors gives us an understanding of exactly where we will focus our efforts in order to best address this complex problem.
  3. The third step is where we develop strategies and actions designed to increase protective factors and decrease risk factors. If we are effective in doing these two things, we can and will significantly reduce child abuse and neglect in Lane County.
  4. Step four is where we spread the word about the actions or strategies that research has proven to work and make sure that there is widespread adoption of effective strategies.

This commitment to research and evaluation is one reason we have housed the 90by30 effort within a major research center, the University of Oregon’s College of Education. Here we will conduct the research that will decide if the actions and the strategies we have adopted for 90by30 are working. The research will also tell us, over time, how to make our strategies even more effective by helping us to adjust or adapt what we are doing to make it work better.

When research proves that an action or strategy works, it leads to other groups and people wanting to implement that strategy in their own community(ies). This widespread adoption of effective actions and strategies will significantly reduce and prevent child neglect and abuse – much like Rotary’s success with nearly eliminating polio.

This chart shows these important four steps of the public health model of prevention that is part of the foundation of 90by30: