Public health frameworks categorize prevention strategies, approaches and programming according to timing or by the targeted population as primary, secondary or tertiary. This guides the development of programming and approaches to most effectively meet the needs of individuals and families through increasing levels of intensity of services. By classifying prevention strategies it is possible to identify a continuum of supports and services and to offer them cost effectively. Low intensity services reach the largest number of people at the lowest cost, whereas the highest intensity services reach the lowest number of people at the highest cost. Therefore, it is most effective and beneficial to ensure that individuals and families receive the lowest intensity service that will meet their needs.
Primary Prevention focuses on the general public, addressing root causes and underlying factors to stop child maltreatment prior to occurrence. Primary prevention activities with a universal focus are broadly accessible and seek to benefit all members of a population regardless of risk level. Primary, universal prevention is a cost effective and far reaching means to address maltreatment before it can affect children and families.
Secondary prevention activities are designed for populations whose members have risk factors or characteristics that increase the likelihood of child maltreatment, such as poverty, substance abuse, adolescent parents, mental health concerns and disabilityof the parent or child. In contrast to primary prevention, secondary prevention does not focus on the entire population, but targets those with greater risk whether due to individual, community or societal factors such as low income, unsafe neighborhoods, racism or lack of opportunity. Many child maltreatment prevention agencies and organizations focus on secondary, selective prevention as a way to allocate limited resources, concentrating on groups with characteristics linked to increased likelihood of child maltreatment.
Tertiary Prevention targets children and families with clear signs of the occurrence of child abuse or neglect and seeks to reduce the consequences and prevent recurrence. Indicated interventions are intensive and costly, and are therefore focused on those with the highest level of need, rather than on all families or at-risk children and families. Such interventions address harm done by neglect and abuse and also support long-term healing of those who face the lifelong impact of these experiences.
The Prevention Board is the state's champion on primary prevention. While it is the realm of other agencies to respond to the urgent needs of families and children through secondary and tertiary prevention, these approaches, without primary prevention cannot prevent neglect or abuse of all children.