Child protection training for professionals to improve reporting of child abuse and neglect

This review assessed the effectiveness of training aimed at improving reporting of child abuse and neglect by professionals and investigated possible components of effective training interventions.

The review authors included 11 studies with 1484 participants. Only 3 of the 11 studies were conducted in the past 10 years and all took place in high-income countries: the USA, Canada and the Netherlands. Interventions were developed by experts and delivered by specialist facilitators, content area experts or interdisciplinary teams in face-to-face workshops or seminars (eight studies), or as self-paced e-learning modules (three studies). All studies took place in workplace settings with qualified professionals.

The review authors found that, compared with no training or a wait-list control group (or both), the evidence is very uncertain about the effects of training on:

  • the number of actual reported cases of child abuse and neglect immediately after training (standardised mean difference (SMD) 0.81, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.18 to 1.43; 1 study, 42 participants; very low-certainty evidence);
  • the number of hypothetical reported cases of child abuse and neglect immediately after training (SMD 1.81, 95% CI 1.30 to 2.32; 2 studies, 87 participants; very low-certainty evidence);  
  • professionals' knowledge of core concepts in all forms of child abuse and neglect postintervention (SMD 0.68, 95% CI 0.35 to 1.01; 2 studies, 154 participants; very low-certainty evidence);
  • professionals' knowledge of core concepts in child sexual abuse postintervention (SMD 1.44, 95% CI 0.43 to 2.45; 3 studies, 238 participants; very low-certainty evidence);
  • professionals' skill in distinguishing reportable and non-reportable cases postintervention (SMD 0.94, 95% CI 0.11 to 1.77; 1 study, 25 participants; very low-certainty evidence); and
  • professionals' attitudes towards the duty to report child abuse and neglect postintervention (SMD 0.61, 95% CI 0.47 to 0.76; 1 study, 741 participants; very low-certainty evidence).

They also found evidence that training may improve professionals’ knowledge of reporting duty, processes and procedures postintervention (SMD 1.06, 95% CI 0.90 to 1.21; 1 study, 744 participants; low-certainty evidence), compared with a wait-list control group.

No studies measured the number of cases of child abuse and neglect via official records of reports made to child protection authorities, or adverse effects of training.

The review authors concluded that, while there may be evidence that training may improve professionals’ knowledge of reporting duty, processes and procedures compared with those who are not exposed, the evidence is very uncertain. In all cases they rated the certainty of evidence as low or very low, downgrading due to study design and reporting limitations. The findings rest on a small number of largely older studies, confined to single professional groups. Whether similar effects would be seen for a wider range of professionals remains unknown.

Considering the many professional groups with reporting duties, the review authors strongly recommend further research to assess the effectiveness of training interventions, with a wider range of child-serving professionals. They also say there is a need for larger trials that use appropriate methods for group allocation, and statistical methods to account for the delivery of training to professionals in workplace groups.

The evidence is current to June 2021.

Read the full review here on the Cochrane Library.