Home Visits Not Preventing Abuse

Wednesday, September 20th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) — Regular visits by nurses to the homes of low-income, unmarried teen-age mothers may not be as effective at preventing child abuse as previously thought, new research suggests.

The visits had little effect in homes where the mothers were routinely threatened or beaten by their partners — and such domestic violence was present in one-fifth of the homes studied.

The report's authors initially studied home visits in Elmira, N.Y., more than 20 years ago, and those studies contributed to the development of similar experiments in other cities.

While disappointing to social welfare activists who considered the Elmira program evidence of a promising solution to a troubling problem, the results may not necessarily apply to other programs, the authors said.

Elmira is a semirural community in upstate New York and the participants were high-risk women who may have experienced more domestic violence than women in a more heterogenous population, the authors said in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Still, they said their findings may help others develop more successful home-visit programs.

Researchers examined data on 324 Elmira mothers and their children who took part in the initial study between 1978 and 1980.

A 15-year follow-up, previously reported, showed that women who received regular counseling-oriented visits from nurses during their pregnancies and first two years of their children's lives had reported substantially fewer instances of child maltreatment than women who had no visits.

In their new analysis of the data, the authors found that nearly half of the women — 48 percent — reported some form of domestic violence during the follow-up, and the benefits of the home visits in preventing child abuse decreased as the frequency of domestic violence increased.

The authors theorized that violent men in the battered women's lives might have also abused their children. They also suggested that batterings may have compromised the mothers' caregiving capacity.

An editorial in the same periodical called the results significant given the increasing popularity of home-visit programs prompted in part by the Elmira experiment.

The number of children served by home visits nationwide more than doubled in the 1990s, to at least 550,000 last year.


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