Policy Strategies for Child Maltreatment Prevention (2023-2024)


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. Organizations are striving to connect community and healthcare resources.

Project Description

This project works at the intersection of health, social services and policy. It is designed to expand the capacity of and incorporate student researchers into the ongoing work of the team researching child maltreatment prevention at the Children’s Health & Discovery Initiative and the Center for Child & Family Policy

There are three central goals driving this project. First, the team will conduct a scoping literature review of strategies being implemented nationwide to address the underlying needs of families across different sectors. Second, the team will directly engage stakeholders from local departments of social services, healthcare systems and policy makers to identify potential solutions. Third, the team will incorporate these lessons about policy interventions into a broader research agenda on integration of health and social services for children at risk for maltreatment. 

Finally, the team will disseminate findings to North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS), policymakers, leaders and service providers who work at the intersection of health and social services.

The team will form subgroups that will focus on an aspect of the project and regularly report back to the larger group. Subgroups may change over time to ensure that all team members get experience with different aspects of the project. 

Anticipated Outputs

Data for grant proposals to design appropriate prevention or intervention strategies; two academic manuscripts; presentation to NC DHHS stakeholders; policy brief

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will include 2 graduate students and 8-10 undergraduate students. Interested students will likely be from prehealth, public policy or psychology, or may be pursuing a Child Policy Research Certificate or Health Policy Certificate. Students should have a strong interest in child development, health care, racial equity, social services or public policy. Those who have lived experience with low-income environments and/or Child Protective Services would make strong team contributors. Students with skills in conducting literature reviews, interviewing participants or doing qualitative research would be particularly helpful.

Team members will gain experience with conducting a scoping literature review in collaboration with a medical center research librarian. They will learn how to interview professionals in the child services arena and hone skills in qualitative data analysis. 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 at NC DHHS. Graduate students will learn how to conduct community-engaged research in addition to honing mentoring skills.

In Fall 2023, this team will meet on Wednesdays from 11:45-1:00.

One graduate student team member will be selected to serve as the project manager.

Please note that this team is also seeking 3-4 undergraduate students and 1 graduate or professional student for intensive research over the summer from May 22 to July 28 through a new summer program, Policy+. Graduate/professional student applicants for this Policy+ team should ideally be available to work with the Bass Connections project in 2023-2024 as a project manager. Interested students should apply to Policy+ through the Bass Connections application. (When you select this project team in the application, you will be asked to indicate whether they are applying for the summer 2023 Policy+ project, the Bass Connections academic year project, or both.)


Summer 2023 – Summer 2024

  • Summer 2023 (optional): Policy+ students: Work with a research librarian on scoping literature review; develop relationships with community stakeholders; develop outline for interviews; identify potential interviewees
  • Fall 2023: Screen articles for scoping literature review; develop template for abstracting information from articles; review and code articles; refine interview protocol; learn and practice interview skills; schedule and conduct interviews
  • Spring 2024: Analyze data from scoping literature review; write a summary/report from literature review; continue to schedule and conduct interviews; develop qualitative coding scheme for interviews
  • Summer 2024 (optional): Finalize policy brief; analyze results and develop manuscript from interviews


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

Outline of state of North Carolina with graphic in shape of heart and icon of a child.

Team Leaders

  • 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

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Gracie Blackburn, History (AB)
  • Geoffrey Chen
  • Chloe Decker, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Alexa Fahrer
  • Catherine Flanagan, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Talia West
  • Sarah Williams, Psychology (BS)