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Safe Blog

How organizations should deal with child protection: findings from an evidence review

26th June 2024


In most sectors, some well-intentioned interventions will succeed in making things better; some have little or no effect; and some may make things worse. Children deserve better than adults to use a “guess and hope” strategy, so decisions relating to child protection should be made as carefully as possible - using the best available evidence.

Based on this, there are two key questions to ask if we want to make sure we are making the best use of available data to keep children safe:

  1. What rigorous ‘what works’ studies exist about organisational responses to child abuse, i.e., what does the available evidence cover? And

  2. What do those studies say?

Giving Evidence, a research and advisory organisation, intended to answer those questions to help inform the work of policymakers, child-serving organizations and funders. Their findings were compiled in two different products, which directly answer the two questions above:

  1. An ‘evidence and gap map’ that shows all relevant studies about organisational responses to child abuse in a grid, coded by the intervention(s) and outcome(s) that they examine. It is also searchable by geography and type of participant, which allows to further segment the studies based on the user’s needs.
  2. A "Guidebook" reflecting the findings, and including summaries for each featured study.

What is included in this Evidence and Gap Map and Guidebook:

We included:We didn’t include:
Organizational* responses to child abuse ie. what organisations do to prevent abuse both in their organisations and outside.Most work on abuse in the home / by friends or relatives.
What the studies found.Studies about where the abuse is.
Which effects of which programmes have been studied.Studies about what types of abuse.
Studies published at any point, from anywhere in the world, in any of various languages.Studies about how much abuse there is.
Types of study that are on this site: primary causal studies which have a robust counterfactual (RCTs & QEDs), and systematic reviews.
Protocols (“recipes”) for new studies which are likely to be underway

The good news: All the interventions assessed succeed.

None of them are harmful. Of course, that doesn’t guarantee that all of the studied interventions will always succeed. An intervention which was initially identified as being successful may be inappropriately implemented and/or in an unsuitable context, for instance, which could potentially cause harm. But the fact that no intervention was shown to be harmful is great news.

Further good news is that the amount of evidence is growing quite fast. This Evidence and Gap Map and Guidebook are updates of previous versions that we made a few years ago. In 2019, we found just 58 completed primary studies; whereas in 2023, we found 108 of them: nearly double the number in just the last three years**. Also, there are eight ongoing studies on the new map, whereas there were only three on our first EGM.

There are more studies now focused on treatments for survivors. In the first EGM, only two such interventions were featured and both of those had started before 2000. Now there are studies of many more treatment interventions - though still only a few.

The evidence is quite concentrated:

  • Most studies are about prevention. Prevention was examined in 120 papers (some studies generate more than one paper).
  • Sexual abuse is more studied than other types of abuse. Of the 108 completed primary studies, 75 look at sexual abuse, whereas 49 look at other types of abuse***.
  • Most studies assess education-based prevention programmes, in early education and in school settings. Fully 60 of the 108 completed primary studies look at that.
  • More than 70% of the completed primary studies assess curriculum-based prevention programmes educating children about sexual abuse and teaching safety skills, e.g., how to handle ‘secrets’ and whom to tell in school settings.
  • We found no studies on churches or other faith-based organisations. That is remarkable given the history of child sexual abuse in these settings.

The outcomes studied

  • Few studies look at actual incidences of abuse.
  • Most studies assess intermediate outcomes, such as children’s acquisition and retention of knowledge, but not actual disclosure of incidence.
  • The outcomes were usually self-reported by children or young people, which are proxies for incidence. They may or may not be reliable proxies.
  • Only one study looks at educational attainment.
  • Only seven completed studies assessed interventions to stop adults from offending in organisations.
  • Studies addressed only three of the seven INSPIRE strategies of the World Health Organization. Four of the INSPIRE strategies have no rigorous impact evaluations.

Our geography

  • Most studies are from high-income countries. The USA dominates, with 40% of completed primary studies.
  • There are very few studies from Africa, and they cover only four interventions, all in prevention. In other words, there are zero studies from Africa about encouraging disclosure, response or treatment.

What the studies found

  • Most effects are small – that is true not just of child protection but of most social interventions: An effective programme may improve knowledge by 20-30% and reduce abuse by 10-20%.
  • School-based programmes have succeeded in raising children’s awareness about physical and sexual abuse, training them on what to do, and increasing disclosure. They don’t make children more anxious. These findings are consistent across over 60 studies in many countries.
  • The effects of school-based interventions to prevent peer violence and gender-based violence are unclear: the studies are inconclusive. Further research is necessary to identify the most effective strategies and interventions to create safe and inclusive learning environments for all students.

In sum, the findings are positive - most interventions have been found to be successful, and more evidence is being produced - but major gaps remain, notably the lack of studies from low-income countries and faith-based settings.

In order to ensure that organizations are in the best position to implement interventions that are able to keep children safe from all forms of abuse and avoid those that might be harmful, these evidence gaps will need to be filled. Generating and using world-class evidence is vital to our ability to keep children safe, wherever they may be.

*In this case, the term ’Organizations’ includes schools, pre-schools, after-school clubs, sports and music clubs, holiday camps, residential care, hospitals, churches, etc.

**This needs caution because there can be giant delays in publishing the study. For example, one study published in 2021 examines an intervention which ran in 2013.

***Some studies look at multiple types of abuse.