Preventing child maltreatment in Indiana focus of new social work program

Multiyear, community-based project led by IU researchers will establish family resource centers in four counties

INDIANAPOLIS -- Researchers in the Indiana University School of Social Work at IUPUI have received a five-year, $2.74 million grant to address the problem of childhood maltreatment in Indiana.

Susana Mariscal and Bryan Victor, associate professors in the IU School of Social Work in Indianapolis, will use the funding from the Children's Bureau -- which is part of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services -- to launch the Strengthening Indiana Families program.

Susana MariscalView print quality image
Susana Mariscal. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

The program is a partnership with the Indiana Department of Child Services; the Indiana State Department of Health; the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration; Children's Bureau Inc.; the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana; and partners in Delaware, Grant, Madison and Tipton counties, where the project will be implemented.

One of the program's primary goals is to establish a series of family resource centers in the target counties, located in places where families already gather, such as schools and libraries.

"The development of these centers will increase accessibility to services and the capacity of the counties to strengthen protective factors and address risk factors associated with child maltreatment," Mariscal said.

During the first year of the program, Mariscal, Victor and their partners will conduct a comprehensive needs assessment and plan the installation of the centers.

Bryan VictorView print quality image
Bryan Victor. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

"We also will learn from other evidence-based programs around the country that have received grants from the Children's Bureau," Victor said. "The remaining four years of the grant provide support for the implementation and evaluation of the program."

The grant will also create public awareness campaigns to de-stigmatize the need for parenting training and support and to enhance linkages to the support centers.

Mariscal said the grants reflect the shift from response to prevention when addressing child maltreatment.

"The grant will facilitate collaboration between municipalities, nonprofits and the state to enhance prevention capacity. They will enhance coordinated services to strengthen families and reduce child maltreatment and foster care entry in the targeted counties," Mariscal said.

"Families and youth with experience in the foster care system will also be integral to this project's design," Victor said.

Terry J. Stigdon, director of the Indiana Department of Child Services, said collaboration will be an important part of shaping the program's success.

"We must work collaboratively with community stakeholders, federal partners, and the children and families with experience in foster care to build and sustain family resource centers," Stigdon said.

"By working together, we can all help ensure these family resource centers can support communities and prevent child maltreatment. When families are supported, wherever they are, our communities and children will thrive."

According to the Children's Bureau, Indiana ranked third in the nation in child maltreatment-related fatalities in 2017, and there was a 70 percent increase in the number of children entering out-of-home care between 2011 and 2017.

"More than 18 per 1,000 children in Indiana are victims of maltreatment. This is twice the national rate. It also represents a 34 percent increase in the number of victims between 2013 and 2017. So, there is a clear need for prevention-focused services," Mariscal said.

"And imagine the outcome if this works. Families in Indiana will be more supported and connected to resources in their communities. There will be families that become stronger, that don't go through separation and can stay together. That's really what is driving us."

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