Risk and protective factors

No single factor explains why some children experience violence. Instead, a complex interaction of factors work together to increase or decrease. To prevent violence against children we need to understand not only the scale of the problem, but also the risk and protective factors that drive it.

Prevention efforts require not only reducing the risk, but also strengthening protective factors and supporting children and families in a variety of contexts. Click on the diagram below for more on risk and protective factors for children in different settings.

Risk factors
  • Caregiver stress
  • Family violence
  • Alcohol and drug abuse, involvement in crime
  • Poor supervision of children
  • Approval and use of physical punishment
  • Children’s age and developmental capacity
  • Inadequate support from family and friends
  • Overcrowding of sleeping quarters
Protective factors
  • Healthy communication
  • Use of non-violent discipline
  • Family cohesion and support
  • Sensitive, affectionate and positive parenting
  • Understanding children’s needs and development
  • Close relationship between caregiver and child
Risk factors
  • Poor school management
  • Limited reporting mechanisms
  • Access to drugs and weapons
  • Involvement with delinquent peers
  • Failure to hold perpetrators accountable
Protective factors
  • Safe places to play after school
  • Supportive school environment
  • Inclusive teaching approach
  • Constructive conflict resolution
  • Strong management and educator training
  • Zero-tolerance approach to violence, bullying
  • Effective implementation of school safety policies
Risk factors
  • Crime, gang and interpersonal violence
  • Access to alcohol, drugs and weapons
  • Poverty and unemployment
  • Low community cohesion
  • Limited support services
  • Limited access to services
Protective factors
  • Strong, accountable community leadership
  • Social support and cohesion
  • Access to health and social support services and infrastructure
  • Positive activities for children and youth
  • Age-appropriate child care facilities
  • Implementation of gun control
  • Increased safety measures and improving the built environment
Risk factors
  • Income inequality and social exclusion
  • Social norms that support violence
  • Inadequate criminal justice response
  • Inadequate prevention services
  • Gender inequality
Protective factors
  • Positive role models, gender equality and alternatives to violence promoted in media
  • Quality education and employment opportunities
  • Social protection programmes (e.g. social grants)
  • Access to prevention, early intervention and protection services
  • Strong legislative framework
  • Weapon and alcohol controls
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University of Cape Town
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