Should We Try to Predict Child Abuse–and Proactively Prevent It?

Should we look forward, in this day of information, to more and more tests and predictions of the sort that the New Zealanders have started to explore? Should we start to say, I think that family is at high risk of going on welfare, or getting food stamps, or needing Medicaid support, or any other set of problems? Is there any limit to what we would say is reasonable to try to predict?

I would say this: Unless we’re ready to mount an intervention to stop the problem, I have a lot of ethical heartburn about doing the forecast. That is to say, if I don’t have a program to help somebody learn how not to be abusive, if I don’t have an intervention to teach a child how to get along better with their peers, then just forecasting trouble seems to me to bring stigma and penalty to a child and their family. It doesn’t do them any good to have this knowledge, or anyone else any good to be in possession of knowledge, that something bad is going to happen to this child or this family.