Child Abuse and Neglect
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Child Abuse and Neglect

Child abuse and neglect is:

  • physical injury to a child
  • emotional neglect
  • sexual abuse or exploitation
  • failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care
  • subjecting a child to substantial risk of harm to his or her health and welfare

Very few parents set out to intentionally harm their children, physically or emotionally. Yet, mothers and fathers are the most prevalent perpetrators of child abuse and neglect. They represent approximately 70 percent of all cases. Child abuse is largely a multi-generational problem. Hurtful patterns and behaviors are learned by parents as children and passed on to their children, and then on to their children's children, serving as a catalyst for a vicious cycle of abuse. Child abuse has serious ramifications, both for those directly involved, as well as society as a whole.

Abuse and neglect affect children of all ages, across all cultural groups and in every part of the country. The major issues facing families of abused and neglected children are:

  • drug/alcohol problems
  • mental health issues
  • unemployment and other financial hardships
  • parental involvement with law enforcement
  • domestic violence (physical abuse of spouse/fighting)

Many of the children who have experienced abuse in their early lives will have life-long special needs. A recent survey of adoptive parents, reported that 70 percent of adopted children cope with more than one special need, condition, or behavior.

Some of the special needs experienced by abused children are:

  • attention deficity/hyperactivity
  • attachment difficulties
  • speech or language problems
  • development delays
  • sensory problems

Neglect involves inattention to basic needs of a child, such as food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and supervision. Children who have experienced neglect may exhibit the following characteristics:

  • dependence
  • insecurity in learning readiness
  • lack of creative initiative and confidence to work on their own
  • withdrawal, passivity, and/or depression
  • difficulty comprehending day-to-day school work
  • stealing or hoarding of food

Physical abuse of children includes all non-accidental physical injury caused by the child's caretaker. Indicators of children who are experiencing, or have experienced, physical abuse include:

  • aggressive behavior, property destruction, or withdrawal
  • fire setting
  • injury to animals
  • swelling, tenderness, and vomiting due to abdominal injuries
  • repeated bruising, cuts, sprains
  • swelling, dizziness, blackout, and/or retinal detachment due to head injuries
  • fear of adult contact

Emotional abuse includes belittling, blaming, or rejecting a child. Indicators of children who are experiencing emotional abuse include:

  • speech disorders
  • overly compliant or aggressive behavior
  • emotional neediness
  • suicide attempts or thoughts of suicide
  • rocking, thumb sucking, and obsessive fears
  • low self-esteem

Sexual abuse includes any interaction or contact between a child and adult caretaker in which the child is being used for sexual stimulation. Children are not always sexually abused by an adult. In many cases, older children who have been sexually abused may target younger children. Indicators of sexual abuse include:

  • sexual knowledge or interest not ordinarily possessed by young children
  • sexual promiscuity among girls, including adolescent prostitution
  • reports of sexual abuse
  • fire setting
  • suicidal gestures or attempts
  • cruelty to animals
  • depression and social withdrawal
  • substance abuse
  • running away from home
  • poor relationships with other children
  • expressing affection inappropriately

Child abuse and neglect can have devastating effects on the intellectual, physical, social, and psychological development of children.

Child development researchers have accumulated substantial evidence which shows that neglected and abused infants and toddlers fail to develop secure attachments with their primary caregivers. The lack of secure attachment relationships will hinder a child's ability to develop feelings of competence. Neglected children tend to be passive and socially withdrawn in their interactions with peers, while abused children tend to imitate the more aggressive behavior of the abusive caregiver.

Depression often results from abuse and neglect. Parents need to create a climate that can help prevent teen suicides and emotional problems among younger children, while setting the stage for later success in life.

Children and teens who experience at least four of the following symptoms on a daily basis for more than two weeks could be suffering from a depressive disorder.

  • feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  • difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • loss of pleasure
  • loss of attachments
  • diminished sense of humor
  • weight gain or loss

The key observable characteristic of depression is a marked change in previous activity levels and interests that linger. Teens will sometimes use a "mask of success" to hide their feelings of worthlessness. Children and teens that are dependent on outside accomplishments to justify their existence may be driven to succeed and try fiercely to be independent.

To help a child or teen you suspect is suffering from depression:

  • offer praise and compliments
  • encourage the youngster to talk about his or her thoughts and feelings
  • listen without judgment
  • acknowledge their feelings
  • share similar experiences with positive outcome to offer hope
  • seek professional assistance if their sorrow deepens
  • take talk about suicide seriously

While most parents understand that their children's earliest years powerfully shape later development and learning, they are often unsure about what they should be doing to promote healthy emotional, social, and intellectual development. Many parents believe that they don't understand their child's feelings and needs, or don't know how to handle difficult situations with t heir child. Parents face challenges and pressures, chief among them is the time crunch of trying to juggle family life and work. With today's growing awareness of the high level of knowledge and skills needed to protect, nurture, and meet a child's needs, more parents are seeking to expand their expertise. Here are some very practical tips for anyone who wants to have a positive influence on a child's life:

No single technique of discipline can be relied upon for every situation. Proactive parents who use modeling, redirecting, and time-out actually promote positive behavior, help children develop self-control, and prevent unacceptable behavior. Here are some practical steps to follow:

  • discipline with love and consistency
  • help identify more acceptable behavior
  • reinforce good behavior through positive attention, extra privileges, and increased responsibility
  • support their interests and talents
  • establish consequences for misbehavior that are reasonable and age appropriate
  • allow children to express their emotions and develop creative solutions

Building self-esteem:

  • focus on behavior, rather than the child, when things go wrong
  • provide plenty of hugs, smiles, and praise
  • allow children the opportunity to do the things they can do for themselves
  • be careful not to embarrass or label them
  • let them know that you like who they are and enjoy spending time with them
  • listen from the heart to what children are really saying

The following are some suggestions on parenting that may help you, a family member, neighbor, or friend:

  • plan regular time-out for yourself to avoid becoming overwhelmed or tired
  • offer to care for a friend's or family member's child to give that person a rest
  • request parenting classes at your work place, church, or community group
  • supervise children's television, internet, video games, and movie exposure
  • establish family traditions that focus on assisting others who may not be as fortunate
  • carefully choose safe, quality child care providers who also help improve your child's learning and social skills

For information regarding child abuse prevention open these websites:

Connect For Kids -

Prevent Child Abuse America -

Child Welfare League -

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