Risk Factors

Child physical and emotional maltreatment is a complex social problem. In 1980, Jay Belsky proposed an ecological model of risk factors for maltreatment which was later adopted by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This approach to understanding maltreatment emphasizes the importance of multiple and interactive risk factors in understanding the risks of child abuse, as well as devising intervention and prevention strategies.

An ecological model of child abuse highlights interacting risk factors across four levels — the individual, the parent-child relationship, the community, and broader society. Click in each level below to see the risk factors.

The occurrence of one or more risk factors does not mean that there is violence against children in a given family. But it indicates that the risk of maltreatment is heightened and that additional child and family support may be needed.

Reflection Activity

At the beginning of the module we presented Janek’s story. Can you indicate which risk factors could have contributed to the maltreatment of Janek and his sister?