Child abuse and neglect is a reoccurring, growing, and challenging problem in the United States. The website for Children’s Right’s states that this problem is especially prominent amongst younger children because they are more vulnerable (Children’s Rights, 2018). The American Psychological Association has an extensive amount of research and reasoning for child abuse and neglect and goes into detail about various aspects of the issue. This ranges from reasons a parent might abuse their child to the consequences of child maltreatment. Reasons include, but are not limited to, emotional problems and conflicts within a parent, environment of the family, and the family’s social class (APA, 2018). A Science Direct article by Charles H. Zeanah and Kathryn L. Humphreys goes into great detail about the statistics of child abuse and neglect and presents some of the challenges with the statistics as well. Perhaps the biggest issue that is presented is the underreporting of child abuse and neglect. This means determining the true rate of child maltreatment is difficult because of how unpredictable it is (Zeanah & Humphreys, 2018). Without being able to accurately determine the number of children being abused and neglected, there is no way to prevent the dire consequences of child abuse and neglect for every child.
Several articles and informational websites about child abuse and neglect are very statistics based. This is all to show the severity of the problem and to create a certain amount of concern for the issue. The website for Children’s Rights is one of many such informational websites. There is a great amount of research and time put into collecting this data, and it goes without saying that the results are shocking. According to Children’s Rights, in 2016 alone, there were 4.1 million reports of child abuse and neglect that concerned about 7.4 million children. There were about 676,000 documented victims of child abuse and neglect. Of these children, 75% of them suffered neglect, 18% suffered physical abuse, and 8.5% suffered sexual abuse (Children’s Rights, 2018). Of the victims, the most vulnerable are younger children because they are unable to protect themselves, or don’t know how to. About 1,750 children died from maltreatment and more than 44% of these children are under one year old (Children’s Rights, 2018). While it seems shocking, the reality of the problem is that most of the abusers that are involved in child abuse and neglect are in fact the parent or parents of the child. This is a major contributor to the problem.
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The American Psychological Association is also very dedicated to the prevention of child abuse but approaches the problem with more sociological and psychological facts and reasoning than purely statistically facts. The “Child Abuse and Prevention Treatment Act” defines child maltreatment as “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 an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm” (APA, 2018). The APA factsheet also goes on to define neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. The most defining aspect of the APA’s “Understanding and Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect” factsheet are the factors that it addresses as reasons that child abuse and neglect might occur. These “risks” consider factors involving individual caregivers, family, children, and environment.
Factors in caregivers that contribute to the risk of abuse and neglect can include emotional issues such as low self-esteem, depression, and antisocial behavior (APA, 2018). The stereotypical reason that a caregiver might abuse their child, which is popularized in movies and television shows, is substance abuse. Another reason might be that the caregivers themselves might have experienced violence in their own lives that might make this kind of treatment of a child seem normal. However, it could just be the caregiver’s own misunderstanding of raising children that can lead to the abuse and neglect of a child. Factors in a family that lead to child abuse and neglect often involve tension between partners or financial issues. Such an example are single parents. Families made up of children and a singular parent are more likely to live in poverty which leads to anxiety, stress, and sometimes depression (APA, 2018). Tension between parents that leads to violence may be witnessed by children which may in turn lead to them becoming victims of this anger themselves. This maltreatment by parents is seen in the form of verbal aggression and harsh discipline (APA, 2018). Sometimes maltreatment is a result of issues that arise from the children themselves. However, these issues are typically the result of something that the children themselves cannot control. Such an example is the abuse of infants and younger children. They are at great risk of physical abuse because they are in need of constant care and often respond to neglect with crying. Another factor that is not in control of the child is that teenagers are at greater risk of sexual abuse (APA, 2018). Physical abuse is also seen amongst children with disabilities and chronic illnesses. Abuse is especially a problem with these children because they often cannot defend themselves or don’t even know why they are being physically abused. Environmental issues that lead to child maltreatment include poverty, unemployment, and even dangerous neighborhoods where violence might seem more acceptable.
The American Psychological Association also addresses the consequences of child maltreatment. For example, neglecting infants will lead to slow brain development. Emotional abuse can lead to relationship issues outside of the family. An important note to point out is that the impacts of maltreatment varies depending on several factors including age, type of abuse, the frequency and severity, and also the relationship of the abused to the abuser (APA, 2018). There is intervention that can help prevent the consequences of child abuse. The kinds of people that surround a child outside of the family make a huge difference in a child’s life and can turn their lives around for the better. This also can apply to a family, too. The support for a family that is struggling can prevent child abuse and neglect and should not be taken for granted because just one positive person in someone’s life can turn it around for the better.
The article “Child Abuse and Neglect” from Science Direct helps show some more of the deeper issues with child abuse and neglect. Although there were 676,000 children that were documented as victims of child abuse, underreporting is still a big problem. Part of the reason is the unpredictability of child abuse (Zeanah & Humphreys, 2018). Not every abused or neglected child lives in poverty or lives in violent neighborhoods. Another component of the problem of child maltreatment that this article addresses is foster care. The past few years have shown that between 250,000 and 275,000 children that suffer from abuse and neglect are put into foster care while at any given time there are about 400,000 to 500,000 children are in foster care in the United States. This means that a majority of children that have suffered from maltreatment are still with their families (Zeanah & Humphreys, 2018). Another important statistic to note in this article is that 45% of those who have been victims of abuse and neglect develop some sort of psychiatric or mental disorder. This means that there isn’t any other greater environmental predictor of mental health than experiences of maltreatment.
Several factors that contribute to child abuse and neglect are often a result of interaction with other people and groups. This means that the Symbolic Interactionism Theory provides a very plausible explanation for these factors. As the American Psychological Association showed, there are several factors in caregivers, families, and environments that contribute to the risk of child abuse and neglect. For example, a caregiver’s relationship with their own parents and their experience with violence and neglect could be the root of the problem. Parents who witnessed this kind of violence might think that this is the kind of relationship that parents have with their children, or it justifies this behavior. Violent environments can normalize violence in the eyes of families and their children. The children grow up learning this violent behavior and they themselves may turn to child abuse and neglect in the future.
I personally chose to delve into this subject because I have seen that child abuse and neglect can take many forms and can lead to many results. I myself have family members that suffer from neglect because of their parents. My cousins from Iowa come down several times a year to spend time with us because they need to get away from their situation. Their father is an alcoholic and has been arrested several times and the mother doesn’t take care of them. The oldest sister does her best to take care of them but it’s not easy. However, that is not the only issue they have. Their youngest brother and their oldest brother are both mentally handicapped which puts more stress on the family. But, my uncle did not grow up in an abusive family. He is the youngest child of six and the rest of his family is very caring and supportive. This goes to show the unpredictability of child abuse and neglect as was mentioned by Zeanah and Humphreys in the Science Direct article. One point that I thought was great that the American Psychological Association factsheet touched on was one of the factors that might contribute to the risk of child abuse or neglect. Not only might a child with any various type of disability or chronic illness be at risk of abuse, but they are also at risk for neglect. They go on to specifically say “physical, cognitive, or emotional disabilities” which is great that they are acknowledging that a parent might neglect a child’s emotional disability (i.e. depression) as well as other disabilities (APA, 2018).
- Zeanah, C. H., & Humphreys, K. L. (2018). Child Abuse and Neglect. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 57(9), 637-644.
- “Child Abuse and Neglect.” Children’s Rights, www.childrensrights.org/newsroom/fact-sheets/child-abuse-and-neglect/.
- “Understanding and Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/understanding-child-abuse.aspx.