News & Perspectives

News & Perspectives

Upstream Support Programs Proven to Prevent Abuse


By Suzin Bartley, Executive Director

In Yvonne Abraham’s recent Boston Globe column, "A 14-year-old boy is dead. We may never fully know why," she asks, “How do we protect them from the inexplicable?” 

Upstream support programs that partner with parents at the earliest stages of their parenting journeys are proven to reduce abuse and can decrease the number of children and families in the child welfare system. In 2018, there were over 140,000 reports of child abuse or neglect in Massachusetts and over 30,000 children entered the system. That means there were approximately 100,000 families that posed a risk to child safety but did not reach the level of crisis necessary to warrant involvement by child protective services.

Healthy Families Massachusetts (HFM) is a low-cost program that supports young, first-time parents to reduce or eliminate instances of abuse and neglect. HFM is breaking the cycle of abuse – 54% of the parents enrolled in the program had substantiated cases of abuse as children, but a study by Tufts University published in the American Journal of Public Health found that the small number of parents in the program who were reported to DCF were 32% less likely to have a second report than those in the control group.

Programs like this can help parents break the cycle of child abuse and have the potential to keep the child welfare system from facing an overwhelming number of cases.