Policy Strategies to Address Child Maltreatment (2024-2025)


Children who experience maltreatment suffer immediate physical, emotional and/or psychological injuries and face long-term consequences that impact their health and well-being. These children have elevated risk of common and high-cost pediatric illnesses. Unfortunately, many children who experience a report of alleged maltreatment are likely to experience multiple subsequent reports. They require specialized, multidisciplinary care that takes contextual factors into consideration to help prevent escalating or recurrent maltreatment.

Under current mandates that only allow Child Protective Services to provide resources to children following removal from the home and placement in custody, many social service agency representatives and healthcare providers observe social history and risk factors in their clients and patients that they are unable to address directly. Further, health systems are tapped to address the harms of maltreatment, but they are not reimbursed in ways that allow them to proactively intervene.

Fortunately, opportunities for policy innovation exist. For example, the Families First Prevention Act is one way for states to allocate resources toward preventive rather than reactive approaches, with the goal of providing a comprehensive service framework for children and families. Families First also strives to improve conditions for children in foster care.

Project Description

Building on the work of a previous team, this project team will participate in the ongoing work of the Children’s Health & Discovery Initiative and the Center for Child & Family Policy at the intersection of health, social services and policy. This work aims to review existing evidence on policy innovations for child maltreatment prevention and examine stakeholder perspectives on the use of these strategies.

The team will interview experts at local and state levels throughout specific regions of the U.S. to gain more information about how different counties and states use Family First funds to approach child maltreatment prevention, as well as how these funds may improve current foster care conditions. Team members will then use qualitative methods such as content analysis to identify themes in the interviews.

Finally, the team will work to disseminate findings to policymakers, leaders and service providers who work at the intersection of health and social services. The team will draft a manuscript and policy brief and present findings to stakeholders in the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Anticipated Outputs

Qualitative data from interviews; peer review manuscripts; policy brief; presentation to stakeholders in the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will include 1 graduate student and 10 undergraduate students with interests in child development, healthcare, racial equity, social services and public policy. Skills or interest in conducting literature review, interviews or qualitative research would be assets, as would lived experience with low-income environments or Child Protective Services engagements.

Students will interview professionals in the child services arena and learn skills in qualitative analysis, including coding in NVivo. They will have the opportunity to contribute to research on child maltreatment prevention through a peer-reviewed journal publication, a written policy brief and a presentation to stakeholders. 

Graduate students will learn how to conduct community-engaged research in addition to honing research and mentoring skills.


Summer 2024 – Summer 2025

  • Summer 2024 (optional): Analyze results from completed interviews; develop manuscript and policy brief from previous interviews; review literature about impact of Family First on foster care; amend Institutional Review Board (IRB) protocol to include new interview questions to focus on foster care
  • Fall 2024: Continue to work on manuscript and policy brief using results from completed interviews; identify stakeholders for further interviews; schedule and conduct new interviews with focus on foster care
  • Spring 2025: Code and analyze interviews
  • Summer 2025 (optional): Finalize results from interviews; develop new manuscript and policy brief


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available

See earlier related team, Policy Strategies for Child Maltreatment Prevention (2023-2024).


Team Leaders

  • Carmen Alban, Sanford School of Public Policy-Center for Child and Family Policy
  • Elizabeth Gifford, Sanford School of Public Policy-Center for Child and Family Policy
  • Megan Golonka, Trinity College of Arts and Sciences–Psychology and Neuroscience
  • Elizabeth Snyder-Fickler, Sanford School of Public Policy-Center for Child and Family Policy

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Yuerong Liu, Sanford School of Public Policy-Center for Child and Family Policy
  • Lindsay Terrell, School of Medicine-Pediatrics: Child Abuse and Neglect Service
  • Berkeley Yorkery, Sanford School of Public Policy-Center for Child and Family Policy