Current issues and challenges in the definition and operationalization of child maltreatment: A scoping review

Background Studies show considerable variability in the definitions and operationalization of child maltreatment (CM), which limits research, policy formation, surveillance, and cross-country and cross-sector comparisons. Objective To review the recent literature (2011-2021) to understand current issues and challenges in defining CM, to assist in the planning, testing and implementing of CM conceptualizations. Methods We searched eight international databases. Articles were included if the substantive content was related to issues, challenges, and debates in defining CM, and the article was an original study, review, commentary, report, or guideline. The review followed methodological guidance for the conduct of scoping reviews and was reported in accordance with the PRISMA-ScR checklist. Four experts in CM conducted a thematic analysis to summarize findings. Methodological rigor of the included studies was not formally assessed. Results We identified 7372 potentially relevant articles; 55 full-text studies were assessed for eligibility, 25 satisfied the inclusion criteria. We identified three themes: 1) strategies to define CM, including the integration of child and victim perspectives; 2) difficulties in defining specific CM types; and 3) real-world implications for research, prevention and policy. Conclusions Despite longstanding concerns, challenges regarding the definitions of CM persist. A small minority of studies have tested and implemented CM definitions and operationalizations in practice. The findings will inform international multi-sectoral processes to develop uniform definitions of CM, for example by highlighting the need to acknowledge challenges in defining some CM types and emphasizing the importance of considering the perspectives of children and CM survivors.
Bibliographic reference
Laajasalo, Taina Elizabeth Cowley, Laura Otterman, Gabriel Lamela, Diogo Bettencourt Rodrigues, Leonor Jud, Andreas Kemp, Alison Naughton, Aideen Hurt, Lisa Soldino, Virginia Ntinapogias, Athanasios Nurmatov, Ulugbek 2023 Current issues and challenges in the definition and operationalization of child maltreatment: A scoping review Child Abuse & Neglect 140 106187