Child Abuse Research Paper

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Following a brief account of the evolution of our current understanding and practices with respect to child maltreatment, child abuse and neglect are defined as actions and omissions that avoidably cause children significant suffering or impair their development of basic physical, intellectual, and emotional capacities. Since children’s suffering and the basic capacities that are impaired may be physical or mental, abuse and neglect may be physical or emotional. Justifications for assignments of responsibility to care for children are discussed, along with a variety of proactive measures to prevent avoidable harms and reactive measures to respond to evidence of maltreatment. Attention is paid throughout to the impact of bias on child protection practices intended to prevent or respond to abuse and neglect.


It is now widely agreed that children, as inherently vulnerable and dependent people, deserve social protection when abused or neglected. This departs substantially from past practices and ideologies, in which children were the property of their fathers and could be beaten, killed, or sold (McGillivray 2011). It also departs from attitudes and practices that do not treat children as property but recognize parents as having final authority and sole responsibility to make decisions on their behalf. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) promises children the right to be free from abuse, both physical and mental, and stipulates that states should use a variety of means (legislative, educative, and social) to protect children from it. The large number of states who have signed and ratified this convention testifies to extensive cross-cultural commitment to protecting children’s interests in avoiding significant harm. However, there is less agreement about which actions and omissions constitute abuse and neglect, what proactive measures states should take to protect children, and what should be done when abuse or neglect is detected. This entry offers a brief account of changing global attitudes toward behaviors that seriously and avoidably harm children. I define abuse and neglect, suggest a standard to use to assess whether or not harm suffered amounts to abuse or neglect, and discuss justifications for individual and state responsibilities to protect children and respond to serious harm. This is followed by analyses of some ethical issues connected with child maltreatment. The entry however leaves aside issues about harms that occur to fetuses before birth or which prevent birth.

History And Development

The belief that children are the property of their parents, or more narrowly their fathers (the proprietarian view) has been traced to the Roman doctrine of patria potestas (McGillivray 2011). Fathers could treat their children as they wished, and children had no legal recourse. English common law introduced limits to the power of fathers, and John Locke argued that parental rights are grounded in parental responsibilities, the fiduciary view of parental rights (Archard 2004). Nonetheless for centuries rights were restricted to people thought to be autonomous, with the ability to self-govern in accordance with goals and commitments, and hence children had no legal rights (Brennan 2002). In the twentieth century, children’s rights, based on their significant interests, became increasingly recognized, with rights protecting either interests or choices (Brennan 2002). The UNCRC (1989) is the latest in a succession of twentieth-century international declarations of children’s rights. It has been ratified by 195 countries and signed by two others (Somalia and the United States). Ratifying states are subject to monitoring and required to make progress reports. The UNCRC recognizes children’s rights, outlines parents’ responsibilities to meet children’s needs, and identifies a role for states to support parents (Article 27) and protect children from abuse and neglect (Article 19).

Increasing recognition of children’s rights and the role states should play in protecting children from rights violations has been accompanied by growing international attention to instances of child maltreatment. Ian Hacking (1991) traces the evolution of the concept of child abuse, from the nineteenth-century concept of cruelty to children, closely associated with physical abuse and neglect, to the mid-twentieth century concept of child abuse. While the latter emerged in response to medical review of paediatric x-rays, it became increasingly medicalized (with abusers diagnosed as mentally ill) and was extended in the latter half of the twentieth century to include a variety of significant harms to children, such as emotional and sexual abuse. Greater public attention to children’s suffering was accompanied by a rise in laws that mandate reporting of suspected or witnessed abuse and global expansion in the size and role of child protection services. Heightened global concern about child abuse and neglect has also identified practices that exploit children’s labor (child slavery, dangerous work, work that prevents them from acquiring an education) as abusive.

Conceptual Clarification

There is broad consensus that children’s interests deserve social protection and those who abuse or neglect children are to be condemned. However, it is less clear what actions should be identified as maltreating children, particularly when cultural differences in interactions with children are taken into account, and what standard should be used to determine whether children have been harmed to a degree that constitutes abuse or neglect. In this entry, I define abuse and neglect, discuss the standard that should be used to identify them, and conclude with remarks about assigning responsibility to provide care without which one cannot assign responsibility for neglect.

Children may be harmed both physically and emotionally; either their current well-being or their future development may be negatively impacted; and they may be harmed by intentional activities, by incapable caregivers, and through ignorance of or inattention to their needs. When children are harmed intentionally, significantly, and avoidably, either physically or emotionally, this is abuse. Examples include deliberately burning a child or causing a child to be in sustained fear for life or safety. In addition, actions undertaken purposively, even if the perpetrators do not recognize them as harmful, can be abusive. For instance, involving children in activities intended to bring sexual pleasure to the adult, in the absence of children’s ability to consent and in a manner that causes emotional and physical damage to the child, is sexual abuse even if the adult involved believes the activity is not harmful. When children’s needs avoidably fail to be met through acts of omission, this is neglect, consistently one of the most prevalent forms of child maltreatment worldwide (Stith et al. 2009). Neglect can be physical (such as failure to provide adequate food) or emotional (such as persistent failure to respond to children’s significant distress with warmth and sensitivity).

Unlike abuse, which anyone with access to and ability to harm a child can commit, we can only charge those with some responsibility for meeting a child’s needs with neglect. In order to identify neglect, we must therefore identify those with responsibilities to meet children’s needs, since omissions are only understandable against a backdrop of responsibilities. Too frequently, only mothers are blamed for both abuse and neglect, and neglect is conceived in a gendered way (Stith et al. 2009). Fathers, other relatives, temporary caregivers, those whose social roles have assigned them responsibility, such as educators and child protection service workers, and the state, given its duty to support parents and protect children, share responsibility for children’s well-being with mothers and fathers. Hence all can neglect children.

A strong justification for responsibility to provide care to children, and avoid harming them via either neglect or abuse, must take children to have direct moral status. This moral status will depend upon children’s interests both in avoiding suffering and developing to maturity, at which point (and to some extent before) most will be capable of acting both autonomously and morally (Mullin 2011). Such justifications can be presented as a matter of children’s rights (as with the position of Archard, Brennan, and the UNCRC). Alternatively, they may be presented in terms of care ethics and the responsibility to respond to vulnerable and dependent children’s needs for care, with the latter defined as the activities undertaken to directly meet individuals current needs and develop their basic capacities (Mullin 2014a). Theories about the sources of parental responsibility run the gamut from purely causal to voluntarist (Brake 2010), as well as compromises between the two, such that those who cause children to exist have a responsibility to ensure that someone cares adequately for them and those who assume responsibility take it on in accordance with socially defined roles for parents. A voluntarist model of responsibility, in which responsibility is assigned to those who have explicitly or tacitly agreed to take it on, is in keeping with responsibility to care for children assigned to those who interact with them in capacities other than parental, such as educators, child care workers, child protection workers, and health care workers. The 195 states that ratified the UNCRC have voluntarily assumed responsibility for protecting children from abuse and neglect. I leave aside discussion of political theories that assign states such responsibility even without an explicit undertaking.

Abuse and neglect can only be understood with reference to what constitutes significant avoidable harm to children, and this requires an understanding of their needs, both regarding current wellbeing and development. It also requires a standard of meeting those needs, to avoidably fall below which constitutes either abuse or neglect. David Gil (1975) offers an extreme standard which counts as abuse any circumstance that fails to serve children’s best interests, including not facilitating their optimal development. However, this not only ignores parents’ interests and social interests in the well-being of adults more broadly but also makes the categories of abuse and neglect so broad as to undermine social interest in preventing these forms of child maltreatment. Instead, both Archard, working from a rights perspective, and Mullin, working from a care perspective, define child abuse and neglect as treatment that avoidably fails to provide minimally adequate care and enable children to develop their basic physical, emotional, and intellectual capacities (Archard 2004; Mullin 2014a). These capacities include living safely, with access to adequate nutrition and shelter; bodily health and survival; and the abilities to reason, trust, imagine, recognize one’s own emotions and those of others, self-govern in the interests of personally meaningful goals (autonomy), form relationships with others, and exercise some control over one’s physical and social environment. Activities and omissions that avoidably cause children significant suffering or damage their development and exercise of basic capacities rise to the level of abuse and neglect.

Ethical Dimension

Parental Licensing

Since the state has an ethical obligation to protect children from abuse and neglect, it is necessary to ask how it should undertake this obligation and what proactive as opposed to merely reactive measures it should take to prevent abuse and neglect. Hugh Lafollette (1980) is well known for his controversial proposal that prospective parents (those expecting to parent a child whose arrival is en route via pregnancy or adoption) be required to receive a license to parent, a proactive measure. In the decades since his original argument, he and others have debated various proposals for a parental licensing scheme, which to date has been undertaken only with respect to prospective adoptive parents (licensing is further explored in Weinstock and De Wispelaere). The state’s responsibility to protect children can justify taking proactive measures, but licensing schemes tend to founder on one of three grounds (Mullin 2014a). The first problem is uncertainty around risk factors for parents engaging in abuse or neglect, and especially uncertainty around extent of risk, along with questions about what degrees of risk justify interference with parental liberty on a topic as important to many as the ability to raise children. The second ground for concern regards the extent to which it may be discriminatory to deny parents in poverty or parents with cognitive disabilities or those lacking education, for instance, a license to parent, as opposed to providing them the supports they need to meet children’s needs. The third ground for concern involves the inadequacy of alternative sources of care for children whose parents would be denied licenses (either prospectively or once engaged in parenting) and concerns with abuse and neglect in alternative forms of care (such as foster care and institutional care). Serious concerns have emerged in several countries around neglect or abuse of children in institutional care.

Concerns with licensing schemes should not apply automatically to other proactive measures taken by the state. For instance, widespread public education around children’s needs and close monitoring in the face of known risk factors interfere with liberty less than licensing generally in the Western context. This approach would however be more acceptable in family-oriented climes in Asia and Africa, though licensing is still likely to be problematic. Increasing accuracy in judgments about risk along with improvements in the monitoring and design of alternative and supplemental forms of care (such as childcare designed to respond to children’s emotional needs) can justify requirements that parents participate in interventions designed to improve both their own circumstances and their parenting skills, while helping children develop physically and emotionally. General public education around children’s needs and development can also be justified as in the public interest.

Privacy And Surveillance

Some degree of privacy is arguably important for family intimacy, and yet family privacy (particularly in wealthier countries in which many families live in private dwellings) can serve to shield abusers and prevent detection of neglect. In contexts that present relatively low risks of abuse and neglect, for instance, no past history of domestic violence or child abuse and neglect, no known substance abuse, no known serious family conflict, or history of parents with difficulty controlling anger or very low self-esteem (Stith et al. 2009); interferences with privacy in the context of home life will not be justified. Moreover, children’s public interactions with other members of society will make it possible for signs of child abuse or neglect to be detected. Given the many jurisdictions that mandate reporting signs of child abuse and neglect, either for designated professions (such as teachers and doctors) or universally, for all adults, there are real opportunities to detect abuse and neglect while maintaining privacy within the home. When known risk factors are present, however, particularly as research into risk factors increases in volume and sophistication, monitoring will often be justified. With the presence of some risk factors (such as when children repeatedly present at hospitals with serious symptoms of mysterious origin), significant violations of privacy, such as covert video surveillance of parents’ interactions with children in hospital rooms, may be justified (discussed in Bauer).

Children’s Health

Actions and omissions that damage children’s health will rise to the level of abuse or neglect whenever that health is significantly and avoidably impacted, but often responsibility for the abuse or neglect will go far beyond the family unit. Undernutrition is clearly a major source not only of damage to children’s health but also avoidable death with responsibility only rarely in the hands of parents able but unwilling to provide adequate food. States with the resources to feed their people if those resources were more equitably distributed are more typically the responsible party, and the global community may also share responsibility so long as it is possible for aid to reach those in need. Obesity is a major source of damage to children’s health in developed countries, and parents often play a role in children becoming obese, although environments that offer few opportunities for healthy physical activity and significant exposure to unhealthy foods play a role, as do children themselves. Proactively, states offer public health campaigns that promote healthy eating and active living, and can require nutrition information to be made widely available. Other proactive measures (such as controlling portion size or limiting food availability in public educational institutions) may be justified if they are deemed likely to be effective as can reactive interventions in cases where children’s health has been significantly impacted, but obesity treatment programs should only be mandatory if there is strong evidence that they are effective and less coercive measures have been explored and rejected (proactive and reactive measures are discussed in Mullin 2014b). Given the complexity of the causes of obesity and children’s own role in shaping their eating and activity, prosecuting parents for child abuse as a result of contributions to obesity that severely impacts a child’s health would rarely be justified.

Parental smoking around children in enclosed environments is another health-related activity that may rise to the level of abuse when children’s health is significantly impacted (discussed in Cooley). Given privacy concerns and the personnel required, it is unlikely that proactive measures for detecting smoking in the home would be justified, but evidence that children’s health has been significantly impacted by exposure to tobacco smoke could justify reactive measures that restrict parental liberty to smoke around their children, along with supportive measures to help parents who wish to stop smoking but find it difficult to do so. Different children will be more or less susceptible to the health-related impact of exposure to smoking, and it is important to observe that the same extent of parental smoking may be abusive with respect to one child (because of the impact to his or her health) but damaging without being abusive in regard to another.

A third way in which actions and omissions may significantly and avoidably impact children’s health is medical neglect, or parents’ refusal to seek health care for their children when it is available and affordable. Sometimes this refusal is based on parents’ religious or cultural attitudes toward the medical care practiced in their communities. In the United States for many years laws allowed religious exemptions to laws governing child abuse and neglect, and parents who withheld medical care from their children for religious reasons, including the view that all healing should be spiritual, would not be prosecuted for neglect even when children avoidably died as a result (Hughes 2004). When the standard of medical care has been questioned and confirmed as evidence based and the medical care in question preserves life and basic capacities, denying it to children to whom it is available on the basis of religious or cultural objections should constitute neglect.

Bias And Child Protection

There are various ways in which bias relating to gender, race, class, culture, or religion can impact child protection practices. Regarding gender, as mentioned above, mothers are more likely to be held responsible for child neglect than fathers, and the way neglect is understood can be inappropriately affected by the gender of the parent involved (Mullin 2014a). With respect to abuse, mothers are often held to a higher standard than fathers. Most egregiously, mothers who do not protect their children from abuse at the hands of their fathers are sometimes held to greater account than the abusive fathers themselves (Friedman 2014). Insufficient attention to the role of men in being abusive or neglectful means that some instances of abuse and neglect and some means to prevent them are ignored. As also mentioned above, parental licensing or monitoring schemes may discriminate against poorer parents or parents with cognitive disabilities. In addition, parents who belong to minority races or cultures may be illegitimately subjected to greater scrutiny than parents belonging to dominant cultural groups.

Awareness of bias in child protection practices has led to calls for more culturally competent assessments of risk and damage to children. This is particularly important in assessing children’s emotional needs, as the meaning of interactions between parents and children is affected by culture, and it is necessary to understand the meaning of interactions to know whether children’s emotional needs are being met. Nonetheless, all children deserve to have basic physical and emotional needs met, and all are entitled to minimally adequate care that meets needs for both current wellbeing and development of basic capacities (including the capacity for autonomous action). It is valuable to ensure that mainstream beliefs about children’s needs enter into dialogue with minority views (not only the views of parents suspected of being abusive or neglectful but also the attitudes and practices of members of their cultural community), in order to enrich understanding of children’s needs and how they may be met in a variety of ways. However, it is equally important to ensure that misguided attempts to be culturally sensitive do not lead to minority children suffering abuse or neglect. Moreover, it is not only nations whose children are abused by foreigners (as in sex tourism in Thailand) that have a responsibility to act to protect children in their jurisdiction. Governments of wealthier countries also have an obligation to prosecute their citizens who abuse children abroad.


Despite increased attention to child abuse and neglect, and recognition of the state’s responsibility to protect children from maltreatment, there is need for more clarity around what constitutes abuse and neglect, and where and when blame for neglect is justly assigned. Child maltreatment should be understood in terms of avoidable and significant impairment of children’s basic needs, not only for current well-being but also for development of basic capacities. In making assessments of risks of child maltreatment, and presence of abuse or neglect, it is important to be culturally sensitive without compromising commitments to meeting all children’s basic needs whenever possible. Child protection services – and those who report suspected abuse or neglect – need to be informed by an understanding of children’s needs and attention to the possibility of various forms of bias (with respect to gender, class, and culture, among other factors) in detecting child maltreatment. They also need to take account of the larger social context in which parents raise children, and factors such as poverty and a weak social safety net that may lead parents in poorer nations to tolerate activities such as street hawking, a form of commercial abuse. When these judgments are well informed, intrusions on parental liberty and family privacy are justified in the name of protecting children from significant harm, so long as the least invasive and most effective forms of intervention are employed.

Bibliography :

  1. Archard, D. (2004). Children, rights and childhood (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.
  2. Bayliss, F., & Downie, J. (1997). Child abuse and neglect: Cross cultural considerations. In H. Lindemann Nelson (Ed.), Feminism and families (pp. 173–187). New York: Routledge.
  3. Brake, E. (2010). Willing parents: A voluntarist account of parental role obligation. In D. Archard & D. Benatar (Eds.), Procreation and parenthood: The ethics of bearing and rearing children (pp. 151–177). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  4. Cooley, D. R. (2009). Environmental tobacco smoke as child abuse or endangerment: A case for expanded regulation. Public Affairs Quarterly, 23(3), 181–201.
  5. Mullin, A. (2014b). Children, parents, and responsibility for children’s health. In J. D. Arras, E. Fenton, & R. Kukla (Eds.), The Routledge companion to bioethics, part VI. Reproduction (pp. 381–392). New York: Routledge.
  6. Weinstock, D., & Wispelaere, J. (2012). Licensing parents to protect our children? Ethics and Social Welfare, 6(2), 195–205.
  7. Brennan, S. (2002). Children’s choices or children’s interests: Which do their rights protect? In D. Archard & C. M. Macleod (Eds.), The moral and political status of children (pp. 53–69). New York: Oxford University Press.
  8. Friedman, M. (2014). Moral responsibility for coerced wrongdoing: The case of abused women who ‘fail to protect’ their children. In C. Mackenzie, W. Rogers, & S. Dodds (Eds.), Vulnerability: New essays in ethics and feminist philosophy (pp. 222–240). New York: Oxford University Press.
  9. Gil, D. (1975). Unraveling child abuse. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 45(3), 346–356.
  10. Hacking, I. (1991). The making and molding of child abuse. Critical Inquiry, 17(2), 253–288.
  11. Hughes, R. (2004). The death of children by faith-based medical neglect. Journal of Law and Religion, 20, 247–265.
  12. LaFollette, H. (1980). Licensing parents. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 9(2), 183–197.
  13. McGillivray, A. (2011). Children’s rights, paternal power and fiduciary duty: From Roman law to the Supreme Court of Canada. International Journal of Children’s Rights, 19, 21–54.
  14. Mullin, A. (2011). Children and the argument from marginal cases. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 14(3), 291–305.
  15. Mullin, A. (2014a). Children, vulnerability and emotional harm. In C. Mackenzie, W. Rogers, & S. Dodds (Eds.), Vulnerability: New essays in ethics and feminist philosophy (pp. 266–287). New York: Oxford University Press.
  16. Stith, S. M., Ting Liu, L., Davies, C., Boykin, E. L., Alder, M. C., Harris, J. M., .. . McPherson, M. (2009). Risk factors in child maltreatment: A meta-analytic review of the literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 14, 13–29.
  17. United Nations. (1989). United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Geneva: United Nations.
  18. Bauer, K. A. (2004). Covert video surveillance of parents suspected of child abuse: The British experience and alternative approaches. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics: Philosophy of Medical Research and Practice, 25(4), 311–327.

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Child Abuse Research Paper

This sample child abuse research paper is published for educational and informational purposes only. Free research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality research paper on child abuse at affordable price please use custom research paper writing services.

This sample research paper on child abuse features: 7300+ words (25 pages), an outline, APA format in-text citations, and a bibliography with 28 sources.


I. Introduction

II. Estimates of Child Abuse: Methodological Limitations

III. Child Abuse and Neglect: The Legalities

IV. Corporal Punishment Versus Child Abuse

V. Child Abuse Victims: The Patterns

VI. Child Abuse Perpetrators: The Patterns

VII. Explanations for Child Abuse

VIII. Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect

IX. Determining Abuse: How to Tell Whether a Child Is Abused or Neglected

X. Determining Abuse: Interviewing Children

XI. How Can Society Help Abused Children and Abusive Families?

I. Introduction

Child abuse is a very real and prominent social problem today. The impact of child abuse affects more than one’s childhood, as the psychological and physical injuries often extend well into adulthood. Most children are defenseless against abuse, are dependent on their caretakers, and are unable to protect themselves from these acts.

Childhood serves as the basis for growth, development, and socialization. Throughout adolescence, children are taught how to become productive and positive, functioning members of society. Much of the socializing of children, particularly in their very earliest years, comes at the hands of family members. Unfortunately, the messages conveyed to and the actions against children by their families are not always the positive building blocks for which one would hope.

In 2008, the Children’s Defense Fund reported that each day in America, 2,421 children are confirmed as abused or neglected, 4 children are killed by abuse or neglect, and 78 babies die before their first birthday. These daily estimates translate into tremendous national figures. In 2006, caseworkers substantiated an estimated 905,000 reports of child abuse or neglect. Of these, 64% suffered neglect, 16% were physically abused, 9% were sexually abused, 7% were emotionally or psychologically maltreated, and 2% were medically neglected. In addition, 15% of the victims experienced “other” types of maltreatment such as abandonment, threats of harm to the child, and congenital drug addiction (National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, 2006). Obviously, this problem is a substantial one.

II. Estimates of Child Abuse: Methodological Limitations

Several issues arise when considering the amount of child abuse that occurs annually in the United States. Child abuse is very hard to estimate because much (or most) of it is not reported. Children who are abused are unlikely to report their victimization because they may not know any better, they still love their abusers and do not want to see them taken away (or do not themselves want to be taken away from their abusers), they have been threatened into not reporting, or they do not know to whom they should report their victimizations. Still further, children may report their abuse only to find the person to whom they report does not believe them or take any action on their behalf. Continuing to muddy the waters, child abuse can be disguised as legitimate injury, particularly because young children are often somewhat uncoordinated and are still learning to accomplish physical tasks, may not know their physical limitations, and are often legitimately injured during regular play. In the end, children rarely report child abuse; most often it is an adult who makes a report based on suspicion (e.g., teacher, counselor, doctor, etc.).

Even when child abuse is reported, social service agents and investigators may not follow up or substantiate reports for a variety of reasons. Parents can pretend, lie, or cover up injuries or stories of how injuries occurred when social service agents come to investigate. Further, there is not always agreement about what should be counted as abuse by service providers and researchers. In addition, social service agencies/agents have huge caseloads and may only be able to deal with the most serious forms of child abuse, leaving the more “minor” forms of abuse unsupervised and unmanaged (and uncounted in the statistical totals).

III. Child Abuse and Neglect: The Legalities

While most laws about child abuse and neglect fall at the state levels, federal legislation provides a foundation for states by identifying a minimum set of acts and behaviors that define child abuse and neglect. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), which stems from the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003, defines child abuse and neglect as, at minimum, “(1) any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation; or (2) an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk or serious harm.”

Using these minimum standards, each state is responsible for providing its own definition of maltreatment within civil and criminal statutes. When defining types of child abuse, many states incorporate similar elements and definitions into their legal statutes. For example, neglect is often defined as failure to provide for a child’s basic needs. Neglect can encompass physical elements (e.g., failure to provide necessary food or shelter, or lack of appropriate supervision), medical elements (e.g., failure to provide necessary medical or mental health treatment), educational elements (e.g., failure to educate a child or attend to special educational needs), and emotional elements (e.g., inattention to a child’s emotional needs, failure to provide psychological care, or permitting the child to use alcohol or other drugs). Failure to meet needs does not always mean a child is neglected, as situations such as poverty, cultural values, and community standards can influence the application of legal statutes. In addition, several states distinguish between failure to provide based on financial inability and failure to provide for no apparent financial reason.

Statutes on physical abuse typically include elements of physical injury (ranging from minor bruises to severe fractures or death) as a result of punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, throwing, stabbing, choking, hitting (with a hand, stick, strap, or other object), burning, or otherwise harming a child. Such injury is considered abuse regardless of the intention of the caretaker. In addition, many state statutes include allowing or encouraging another person to physically harm a child (such as noted above) as another form of physical abuse in and of itself. Sexual abuse usually includes activities by a parent or caretaker such as fondling a child’s genitals, penetration, incest, rape, sodomy, indecent exposure, and exploitation through prostitution or the production of pornographic materials.

Finally, emotional or psychological abuse typically is defined as a pattern of behavior that impairs a child’s emotional development or sense of self-worth. This may include constant criticism, threats, or rejection, as well as withholding love, support, or guidance. Emotional abuse is often the most difficult to prove and, therefore, child protective services may not be able to intervene without evidence of harm to the child. Some states suggest that harm may be evidenced by an observable or substantial change in behavior, emotional response, or cognition, or by anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or aggressive behavior. At a practical level, emotional abuse is almost always present when other types of abuse are identified.

Some states include an element of substance abuse in their statutes on child abuse. Circumstances that can be considered substance abuse include (a) the manufacture of a controlled substance in the presence of a child or on the premises occupied by a child (Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Montana, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Virginia); (b) allowing a child to be present where the chemicals or equipment for the manufacture of controlled substances are used (Arizona, New Mexico); (c) selling, distributing, or giving drugs or alcohol to a child (Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, and Texas); (d) use of a controlled substance by a caregiver that impairs the caregiver’s ability to adequately care for the child (Kentucky, New York, Rhode Island, and Texas); and (e) exposure of the child to drug paraphernalia (North Dakota), the criminal sale or distribution of drugs (Montana, Virginia), or drug-related activity (District of Columbia).

IV. Corporal Punishment Versus Child Abuse

One of the most difficult issues with which the U.S. legal system must contend is that of allowing parents the right to use corporal punishment when disciplining a child, while not letting them cross over the line into the realm of child abuse. Some parents may abuse their children under the guise of discipline, and many instances of child abuse arise from angry parents who go too far when disciplining their children with physical punishment. Generally, state statutes use terms such as “reasonable discipline of a minor,” “causes only temporary, short-term pain,” and may cause “the potential for bruising” but not “permanent damage, disability, disfigurement or injury” to the child as ways of indicating the types of discipline behaviors that are legal. However, corporal punishment that is “excessive,” “malicious,” “endangers the bodily safety of,” or is “an intentional infliction of injury” is not allowed under most state statutes (e.g., state of Florida child abuse statute).

Most research finds that the use of physical punishment (most often spanking) is not an effective method of discipline. The literature on this issue tends to find that spanking stops misbehavior, but no more effectively than other firm measures. Further, it seems to hinder rather than improve general compliance/obedience (particularly when the child is not in the presence of the punisher). Researchers have also explained why physical punishment is not any more effective at gaining child compliance than nonviolent forms of discipline. Some of the problems that arise when parents use spanking or other forms of physical punishment include the fact that spanking does not teach what children should do, nor does it provide them with alternative behavior options should the circumstance arise again. Spanking also undermines reasoning, explanation, or other forms of parental instruction because children cannot learn, reason, or problem solve well while experiencing threat, pain, fear, or anger. Further, the use of physical punishment is inconsistent with nonviolent principles, or parental modeling. In addition, the use of spanking chips away at the bonds of affection between parents and children, and tends to induce resentment and fear. Finally, it hinders the development of empathy and compassion in children, and they do not learn to take responsibility for their own behavior (Pitzer, 1997).

One of the biggest problems with the use of corporal punishment is that it can escalate into much more severe forms of violence. Usually, parents spank because they are angry (and somewhat out of control) and they can’t think of other ways to discipline. When parents are acting as a result of emotional triggers, the notion of discipline is lost while punishment and pain become the foci.

V. Child Abuse Victims: The Patterns

In 2006, of the children who were found to be victims of child abuse, nearly 75% of them were first-time victims (or had not come to the attention of authorities prior). A slight majority of child abuse victims were girls—51.5%, compared to 48% of abuse victims being boys. The younger the child, the more at risk he or she is for child abuse and neglect victimization. Specifically, the rate for infants (birth to 1 year old) was approximately 24 per 1,000 children of the same age group. The victimization rate for children 1–3 years old was 14 per 1,000 children of the same age group. The abuse rate for children aged 4– 7 years old declined further to 13 per 1,000 children of the same age group. African American, American Indian, and Alaska Native children, as well as children of multiple races, had the highest rates of victimization. White and Latino children had lower rates, and Asian children had the lowest rates of child abuse and neglect victimization. Regarding living arrangements, nearly 27% of victims were living with a single mother, 20% were living with married parents, while 22% were living with both parents but the marital status was unknown. (This reporting element had nearly 40% missing data, however.) Regarding disability, nearly 8% of child abuse victims had some degree of mental retardation, emotional disturbance, visual or hearing impairment, learning disability, physical disability, behavioral problems, or other medical problems. Unfortunately, data indicate that for many victims, the efforts of the child protection services system were not successful in preventing subsequent victimization. Children who had been prior victims of maltreatment were 96% more likely to experience another occurrence than those who were not prior victims. Further, child victims who were reported to have a disability were 52% more likely to experience recurrence than children without a disability. Finally, the oldest victims (16–21 years of age) were the least likely to experience a recurrence, and were 51% less likely to be victimized again than were infants (younger than age 1) (National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, 2006).

Child fatalities are the most tragic consequence of maltreatment. Yet, each year, children die from abuse and neglect. In 2006, an estimated 1,530 children in the United States died due to abuse or neglect. The overall rate of child fatalities was 2 deaths per 100,000 children. More than 40% of child fatalities were attributed to neglect, but physical abuse also was a major contributor. Approximately 78% of the children who died due to child abuse and neglect were younger than 4 years old, and infant boys (younger than 1) had the highest rate of fatalities at 18.5 deaths per 100,000 boys of the same age in the national population. Infant girls had a rate of 14.7 deaths per 100,000 girls of the same age (National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, 2006).

One question to be addressed regarding child fatalities is why infants have such a high rate of death when compared to toddlers and adolescents. Children under 1 year old pose an immense amount of responsibility for their caretakers: they are completely dependent and need constant attention. Children this age are needy, impulsive, and not amenable to verbal control or effective communication. This can easily overwhelm vulnerable parents. Another difficulty associated with infants is that they are physically weak and small. Injuries to infants can be fatal, while similar injuries to older children might not be. The most common cause of death in children less than 1 year is cerebral trauma (often the result of shaken-baby syndrome). Exasperated parents can deliver shakes or blows without realizing how little it takes to cause irreparable or fatal damage to an infant. Research informs us that two of the most common triggers for fatal child abuse are crying that will not cease and toileting accidents. Both of these circumstances are common in infants and toddlers whose only means of communication often is crying, and who are limited in mobility and cannot use the toilet. Finally, very young children cannot assist in injury diagnoses. Children who have been injured due to abuse or neglect often cannot communicate to medical professionals about where it hurts, how it hurts, and so forth. Also, nonfatal injuries can turn fatal in the absence of care by neglectful parents or parents who do not want medical professionals to possibly identify an injury as being the result of abuse.

VI. Child Abuse Perpetrators: The Patterns

Estimates reveal that nearly 80% of perpetrators of child abuse were parents of the victim. Other relatives accounted for nearly 7%, and unmarried partners of parents made up 4% of perpetrators. Of those perpetrators that were parents, over 90% were biological parents, 4% were stepparents, and 0.7% were adoptive parents. Of this group, approximately 58% of perpetrators were women and 42% were men. Women perpetrators are typically younger than men. The average age for women abusers was 31 years old, while for men the average was 34 years old. Forty percent of women who abused were younger than 30 years of age, compared with 33% of men being under 30. The racial distribution of perpetrators is similar to that of victims. Fifty-four percent were white, 21% were African American, and 20% were Hispanic/Latino (National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, 2006).

VII. Explanations for Child Abuse

There are many factors that are associated with child abuse. Some of the more common/well-accepted explanations are individual pathology, parent–child interaction, past abuse in the family (or social learning), situational factors, and cultural support for physical punishment along with a lack of cultural support for helping parents here in the United States.

The first explanation centers on the individual pathology of a parent or caretaker who is abusive. This theory focuses on the idea that people who abuse their children have something wrong with their individual personality or biological makeup. Such psychological pathologies may include having anger control problems; being depressed or having post-partum depression; having a low tolerance for frustration (e.g., children can be extremely frustrating: they don’t always listen; they constantly push the line of how far they can go; and once the line has been established, they are constantly treading on it to make sure it hasn’t moved. They are dependent and self-centered, so caretakers have very little privacy or time to themselves); being rigid (e.g., having no tolerance for differences—for example, what if your son wanted to play with dolls? A rigid father would not let him, laugh at him for wanting to, punish him when he does, etc.); having deficits in empathy (parents who cannot put themselves in the shoes of their children cannot fully understand what their children need emotionally); or being disorganized, inefficient, and ineffectual. (Parents who are unable to manage their own lives are unlikely to be successful at managing the lives of their children, and since many children want and need limits, these parents are unable to set them or adhere to them.)

Biological pathologies that may increase the likelihood of someone becoming a child abuser include having substance abuse or dependence problems, or having persistent or reoccurring physical health problems (especially health problems that can be extremely painful and can cause a person to become more self-absorbed, both qualities that can give rise to a lack of patience, lower frustration tolerance, and increased stress).

The second explanation for child abuse centers on the interaction between the parent and the child, noting that certain types of parents are more likely to abuse, and certain types of children are more likely to be abused, and when these less-skilled parents are coupled with these more difficult children, child abuse is the most likely to occur. Discussion here focuses on what makes a parent less skilled, and what makes a child more difficult. Characteristics of unskilled parents are likely to include such traits as only pointing out what children do wrong and never giving any encouragement for good behavior, and failing to be sensitive to the emotional needs of children. Less skilled parents tend to have unrealistic expectations of children. They may engage in role reversal— where the parents make the child take care of them—and view the parent’s happiness and well-being as the responsibility of the child. Some parents view the parental role as extremely stressful and experience little enjoyment from being a parent. Finally, less-skilled parents tend to have more negative perceptions regarding their child(ren). For example, perhaps the child has a different shade of skin than they expected and this may disappoint or anger them, they may feel the child is being manipulative (long before children have this capability), or they may view the child as the scapegoat for all the parents’ or family’s problems. Theoretically, parents with these characteristics would be more likely to abuse their children, but if they are coupled with having a difficult child, they would be especially likely to be abusive. So, what makes a child more difficult? Certainly, through no fault of their own, children may have characteristics that are associated with child care that is more demanding and difficult than in the “normal” or “average” situation. Such characteristics can include having physical and mental disabilities (autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], hyperactivity, etc.); the child may be colicky, frequently sick, be particularly needy, or cry more often. In addition, some babies are simply unhappier than other babies for reasons that cannot be known. Further, infants are difficult even in the best of circumstances. They are unable to communicate effectively, and they are completely dependent on their caretakers for everything, including eating, diaper changing, moving around, entertainment, and emotional bonding. Again, these types of children, being more difficult, are more likely to be victims of child abuse.

Nonetheless, each of these types of parents and children alone cannot explain the abuse of children, but it is the interaction between them that becomes the key. Unskilled parents may produce children that are happy and not as needy, and even though they are unskilled, they do not abuse because the child takes less effort. At the same time, children who are more difficult may have parents who are skilled and are able to handle and manage the extra effort these children take with aplomb. However, risks for child abuse increase when unskilled parents must contend with difficult children.

Social learning or past abuse in the family is a third common explanation for child abuse. Here, the theory concentrates not only on what children learn when they see or experience violence in their homes, but additionally on what they do not learn as a result of these experiences. Social learning theory in the context of family violence stresses that if children are abused or see abuse (toward siblings or a parent), those interactions and violent family members become the representations and role models for their future familial interactions. In this way, what children learn is just as important as what they do not learn. Children who witness or experience violence may learn that this is the way parents deal with children, or that violence is an acceptable method of child rearing and discipline. They may think when they become parents that “violence worked on me when I was a child, and I turned out fine.” They may learn unhealthy relationship interaction patterns; children may witness the negative interactions of parents and they may learn the maladaptive or violent methods of expressing anger, reacting to stress, or coping with conflict.

What is equally as important, though, is that they are unlikely to learn more acceptable and nonviolent ways of rearing children, interacting with family members, and working out conflict. Here it may happen that an adult who was abused as a child would like to be nonviolent toward his or her own children, but when the chips are down and the child is misbehaving, this abused-child-turned-adult does not have a repertoire of nonviolent strategies to try. This parent is more likely to fall back on what he or she knows as methods of discipline.

Something important to note here is that not all abused children grow up to become abusive adults. Children who break the cycle were often able to establish and maintain one healthy emotional relationship with someone during their childhoods (or period of young adulthood). For instance, they may have received emotional support from a nonabusing parent, or they received social support and had a positive relationship with another adult during their childhood (e.g., teacher, coach, minister, neighbor, etc.). Abused children who participate in therapy during some period of their lives can often break the cycle of violence. In addition, adults who were abused but are able to form an emotionally supportive and satisfying relationship with a mate can make the transition to being nonviolent in their family interactions.

Moving on to a fourth familiar explanation for child abuse, there are some common situational factors that influence families and parents and increase the risks for child abuse. Typically, these are factors that increase family stress or social isolation. Specifically, such factors may include receiving public assistance or having low socioeconomic status (a combination of low income and low education). Other factors include having family members who are unemployed, underemployed (working in a job that requires lower qualifications than an individual possesses), or employed only part time. These financial difficulties cause great stress for families in meeting the needs of the individual members. Other stress-inducing familial characteristics are single-parent households and larger family size. Finally, social isolation can be devastating for families and family members. Having friends to talk to, who can be relied upon, and with whom kids can be dropped off occasionally is tremendously important for personal growth and satisfaction in life. In addition, social isolation and stress can cause individuals to be quick to lose their tempers, as well as cause people to be less rational in their decision making and to make mountains out of mole hills. These situations can lead families to be at greater risk for child abuse.

Finally, cultural views and supports (or lack thereof) can lead to greater amounts of child abuse in a society such as the United States. One such cultural view is that of societal support for physical punishment. This is problematic because there are similarities between the way criminals are dealt with and the way errant children are handled. The use of capital punishment is advocated for seriously violent criminals, and people are quick to use such idioms as “spare the rod and spoil the child” when it comes to the discipline or punishment of children. In fact, it was not until quite recently that parenting books began to encourage parents to use other strategies than spanking or other forms of corporal punishment in the discipline of their children. Only recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics has come out and recommended that parents do not spank or use other forms of violence on their children because of the deleterious effects such methods have on youngsters and their bonds with their parents. Nevertheless, regardless of recommendations, the culture of corporal punishment persists.

Another cultural view in the United States that can give rise to greater incidents of child abuse is the belief that after getting married, couples of course should want and have children. Culturally, Americans consider that children are a blessing, raising kids is the most wonderful thing a person can do, and everyone should have children. Along with this notion is the idea that motherhood is always wonderful; it is the most fulfilling thing a woman can do; and the bond between a mother and her child is strong, glorious, and automatic—all women love being mothers. Thus, culturally (and theoretically), society nearly insists that married couples have children and that they will love having children. But, after children are born, there is not much support for couples who have trouble adjusting to parenthood, or who do not absolutely love their new roles as parents. People look askance at parents who need help, and cannot believe parents who say anything negative about parenthood. As such, theoretically, society has set up a situation where couples are strongly encouraged to have kids, are told they will love kids, but then society turns a blind or disdainful eye when these same parents need emotional, financial, or other forms of help or support. It is these types of cultural viewpoints that increase the risks for child abuse in society.

VIII. Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect

The consequences of child abuse are tremendous and long lasting. Research has shown that the traumatic experience of childhood abuse is life changing. These costs may surface during adolescence, or they may not become evident until abused children have grown up and become abusing parents or abused spouses. Early identification and treatment is important to minimize these potential long-term effects. Whenever children say they have been abused, it is imperative that they be taken seriously and their abuse be reported. Suspicions of child abuse must be reported as well. If there is a possibility that a child is or has been abused, an investigation must be conducted.

Children who have been abused may exhibit traits such as the inability to love or have faith in others. This often translates into adults who are unable to establish lasting and stable personal relationships. These individuals have trouble with physical closeness and touching as well as emotional intimacy and trust. Further, these qualities tend to cause a fear of entering into new relationships, as well as the sabotaging of any current ones.

Psychologically, children who have been abused tend to have poor self-images or are passive, withdrawn, or clingy. They may be angry individuals who are filled with rage, anxiety, and a variety of fears. They are often aggressive, disruptive, and depressed. Many abused children have flashbacks and nightmares about the abuse they have experienced, and this may cause sleep problems as well as drug and alcohol problems. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and antisocial personality disorder are both typical among maltreated children. Research has also shown that most abused children fail to reach “successful psychosocial functioning,” and are thus not resilient and do not resume a “normal life” after the abuse has ended.

Socially (and likely because of these psychological injuries), abused children have trouble in school, will have difficulty getting and remaining employed, and may commit a variety of illegal or socially inappropriate behaviors. Many studies have shown that victims of child abuse are likely to participate in high-risk behaviors such as alcohol or drug abuse, the use of tobacco, and high-risk sexual behaviors (e.g., unprotected sex, large numbers of sexual partners). Later in life, abused children are more likely to have been arrested and homeless. They are also less able to defend themselves in conflict situations and guard themselves against repeated victimizations.

Medically, abused children likely will experience health problems due to the high frequency of physical injuries they receive. In addition, abused children experience a great deal of emotional turmoil and stress, which can also have a significant impact on their physical condition. These health problems are likely to continue occurring into adulthood. Some of these longer-lasting health problems include headaches; eating problems; problems with toileting; and chronic pain in the back, stomach, chest, and genital areas. Some researchers have noted that abused children may experience neurological impairment and problems with intellectual functioning, while others have found a correlation between abuse and heart, lung, and liver disease, as well as cancer (Thomas, 2004).

Victims of sexual abuse show an alarming number of disturbances as adults. Some dislike and avoid sex, or experience sexual problems or disorders, while other victims appear to enjoy sexual activities that are self-defeating or maladaptive—normally called “dysfunctional sexual behavior”—and have many sexual partners.

Abused children also experience a wide variety of developmental delays. Many do not reach physical, cognitive, or emotional developmental milestones at the typical time, and some never accomplish what they are supposed to during childhood socialization. In the next section, these developmental delays are discussed as a means of identifying children who may be abused.

IX. Determining Abuse: How to Tell Whether a Child Is Abused or Neglected

There are two primary ways of identifying children who are abused: spotting and evaluating physical injuries, and detecting and appraising developmental delays. Distinguishing physical injuries due to abuse can be difficult, particularly among younger children who are likely to get hurt or receive injuries while they are playing and learning to become ambulatory. Nonetheless, there are several types of wounds that children are unlikely to give themselves during their normal course of play and exploration. These less likely injuries may signal instances of child abuse.

While it is true that children are likely to get bruises, particularly when they are learning to walk or crawl, bruises on infants are not normal. Also, the back of the legs, upper arms, or on the chest, neck, head, or genitals are also locations where bruises are unlikely to occur during normal childhood activity. Further, bruises with clean patterns, like hand prints, buckle prints, or hangers (to name a few), are good examples of the types of bruises children do not give themselves.

Another area of physical injury where the source of the injury can be difficult to detect is fractures. Again, children fall out of trees, or crash their bikes, and can break limbs. These can be normal parts of growing up. However, fractures in infants less than 12 months old are particularly suspect, as infants are unlikely to be able to accomplish the types of movement necessary to actually break a leg or an arm. Further, multiple fractures, particularly more than one on a bone, should be examined more closely. Spiral or torsion fractures (when the bone is broken by twisting) are suspect because when children break their bones due to play injuries, the fractures are usually some other type (e.g., linear, oblique, compacted). In addition, when parents don’t know about the fracture(s) or how it occurred, abuse should be considered, because when children get these types of injuries, they need comfort and attention.

Head and internal injuries are also those that may signal abuse. Serious blows to the head cause internal head injuries, and this is very different from the injuries that result from bumping into things. Abused children are also likely to experience internal injuries like those to the abdomen, liver, kidney, and bladder. They may suffer a ruptured spleen, or intestinal perforation. These types of damages rarely happen by accident.

Burns are another type of physical injury that can happen by accident or by abuse. Nevertheless, there are ways to tell these types of burn injuries apart. The types of burns that should be examined and investigated are those where the burns are in particular locations. Burns to the bottom of the feet, genitals, abdomen, or other inaccessible spots should be closely considered. Burns of the whole hand or those to the buttocks are also unlikely to happen as a result of an accident.

Turning to the detection and appraisal of developmental delays, one can more readily assess possible abuse by considering what children of various ages should be able to accomplish, than by noting when children are delayed and how many milestones on which they are behind schedule. Importantly, a few delays in reaching milestones can be expected, since children develop individually and not always according to the norm. Nonetheless, when children are abused, their development is likely to be delayed in numerous areas and across many milestones.

As children develop and grow, they should be able to crawl, walk, run, talk, control going to the bathroom, write, set priorities, plan ahead, trust others, make friends, develop a good self-image, differentiate between feeling and behavior, and get their needs met in appropriate ways. As such, when children do not accomplish these feats, their circumstances should be examined.

Infants who are abused or neglected typically develop what is termed failure to thrive syndrome. This syndrome is characterized by slow, inadequate growth, or not “filling out” physically. They have a pale, colorless complexion and dull eyes. They are not likely to spend much time looking around, and nothing catches their eyes. They may show other signs of lack of nutrition such as cuts, bruises that do not heal in a timely way, and discolored fingernails. They are also not trusting and may not cry much, as they are not expecting to have their needs met. Older infants may not have developed any language skills, or these developments are quite slow. This includes both verbal and nonverbal means of communication.

Toddlers who are abused often become hypervigilant about their environments and others’ moods. They are more outwardly focused than a typical toddler (who is quite self-centered) and may be unable to separate themselves as individuals, or consider themselves as distinct beings. In this way, abused toddlers cannot focus on tasks at hand because they are too concerned about others’ reactions. They don’t play with toys, have no interest in exploration, and seem unable to enjoy life. They are likely to accept losses with little reaction, and may have age-inappropriate knowledge of sex and sexual relations. Finally, toddlers, whether they are abused or not, begin to mirror their parents’ behaviors. Thus, toddlers who are abused may mimic the abuse when they are playing with dolls or “playing house.”

Developmental delays can also be detected among abused young adolescents. Some signs include the failure to learn cause and effect, since their parents are so inconsistent. They have no energy for learning and have not developed beyond one- or two-word commands. They probably cannot follow complicated directions (such as two to three tasks per instruction), and they are unlikely to be able to think for themselves. Typically, they have learned that failure is totally unacceptable, but they are more concerned with the teacher’s mood than with learning and listening to instruction. Finally, they are apt to have been inadequately toilet trained and thus may be unable to control their bladders.

Older adolescents, because they are likely to have been abused for a longer period of time, continue to get further and further behind in their developmental achievements. Abused children this age become family nurturers. They take care of their parents and cater to their parents’ needs, rather than the other way around. In addition, they probably take care of any younger siblings and do the household chores. Because of these default responsibilities, they usually do not participate in school activities; they frequently miss days at school; and they have few, if any, friends. Because they have become so hypervigilant and have increasingly delayed development, they lose interest in and become disillusioned with education. They develop low self-esteem and little confidence, but seem old for their years. Children this age who are abused are still likely to be unable to control their bladders and may have frequent toileting accidents.

Other developmental delays can occur and be observed in abused and neglected children of any age. For example, malnutrition and withdrawal can be noticed in infants through teenagers. Maltreated children frequently have persistent or untreated illnesses, and these can become permanent disabilities if medical conditions go untreated for a long enough time. Another example can be the consequences of neurological damage. Beyond being a medical issue, this type of damage can cause problems with social behavior and impulse control, which, again, can be discerned in various ages of children.

X. Determining Abuse: Interviewing Children

Once child abuse is suspected, law enforcement officers, child protection workers, or various other practitioners may need to interview the child about the abuse or neglect he or she may have suffered. Interviewing children can be extremely difficult because children at various stages of development can remember only certain parts or aspects of the events in their lives. Also, interviewers must be careful that they do not put ideas or answers into the heads of the children they are interviewing. There are several general recommendations when interviewing children about the abuse they may have experienced. First, interviewers must acknowledge that even when children are abused, they likely still love their parents. They do not want to be taken away from their parents, nor do they want to see their parents get into trouble. Interviewers must not blame the parents or be judgmental about them or the child’s family. Beyond that, interviews should take place in a safe, neutral location. Interviewers can use dolls and role-play to help children express the types of abuse of which they may be victims.

Finally, interviewers must ask age-appropriate questions. For example, 3-year-olds can probably only answer questions about what happened and who was involved. Four- to five-year-olds can also discuss where the incidents occurred. Along with what, who, and where, 6- to 8-year-olds can talk about the element of time, or when the abuse occurred. Nine- to 10-year-olds are able to add commentary about the number of times the abuse occurred. Finally, 11-year-olds and older children can additionally inform interviewers about the circumstances of abusive instances.

XI. How Can Society Help Abused Children and Abusive Families?

Child advocates recommend a variety of strategies to aid families and children experiencing abuse. These recommendations tend to focus on societal efforts as well as more individual efforts. One common strategy advocated is the use of public service announcements that encourage individuals to report any suspected child abuse. Currently, many mandatory reporters (those required by law to report abuse such as teachers, doctors, and social service agency employees) and members of communities feel that child abuse should not be reported unless there is substantial evidence that abuse is indeed occurring. Child advocates stress that this notion should be changed, and that people should report child abuse even if it is only suspected. Public service announcements should stress that if people report suspected child abuse, the worst that can happen is that they might be wrong, but in the grander scheme of things that is really not so bad.

Child advocates also stress that greater interagency cooperation is needed. This cooperation should be evident between women’s shelters, child protection agencies, programs for at-risk children, medical agencies, and law enforcement officers. These agencies typically do not share information, and if they did, more instances of child abuse would come to the attention of various authorities and could be investigated and managed. Along these lines, child protection agencies and programs should receive more funding. When budgets are cut, social services are often the first things to go or to get less financial support. Child advocates insist that with more resources, child protection agencies could hire more workers, handle more cases, conduct more investigations, and follow up with more children and families.

Continuing, more educational efforts must be initiated about issues such as punishment and discipline styles and strategies; having greater respect for children; as well as informing the community about what child abuse is, and how to recognize it. In addition, Americans must alter the cultural orientation about child bearing and child rearing. Couples who wish to remain child-free must be allowed to do so without disdain. And, it must be acknowledged that raising children is very difficult, is not always gloriously wonderful, and that parents who seek help should be lauded and not criticized. These kinds of efforts can help more children to be raised in nonviolent, emotionally satisfying families, and thus become better adults.


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