Making prevention work in human services for children and youth

Brian W. Head, Institute for Social Science Research, The University of Queensland
Gerry Redmond, Social Policy Research Centre, The University of New South Wales


Social research has long recognised that many social problems can be reduced through preventative programs. While governments cannot reasonably counter or reverse all the negative outcomes experienced by every citizen, the rationale of the ‘prevention’ approach is to anticipate and mitigate the likelihood of negative outcomes. Special relevance for the prevention approach has been claimed for the field of child and youth well-being. The policy intention is both to enhance the developmental well-being of children and young people, and to lessen the social and economic burden of dealing with the serious consequences of poor health, low skills, poverty, and anti-social behaviour later in the life cycle. However, the design and implementation of prevention programs has tended to be ‘top-down’, with little consultation with target groups (including children) and little debate on the values framework within which prevention programs operate. This paper discusses both technical and theoretical critiques of prevention approaches, and argues for the need to develop new approaches to overcome them.

Brian W. Head <> is Professorial Research Fellow at the Institute for Social Science Research, University of Queensland. His public policy research interests include evidence-based policy, program evaluation, models of collaboration, early intervention, and policy responses to complex problems. Gerry Redmond <> is Senior Research Fellow at the Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales. Trained as a sociologist, his research interests include child poverty and inequality among children, theories of child wellbeing and child rights, and the role of policy as an influence on children’s outcomes.

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