Over the years, child abuse has been depicted in art, literature, and science all over the world. Child abuse is an ancient problem and has been going on for ages (Bensel, Rheinberger & Radbill, 1999). Yet, for years, no one paid enough attention to this issue. Fortunately, today there child abuse is clearly recognized as a serious problem all around the world. There are a variety of cultural, economic, and social factors that contribute to child abuse, and there are different types of child abuse that can take place. The purpose of this research paper is to define child abuse, describe the different types of child abuse, explain why it occurs, elaborate the settings in which it occurs, and its consequences.
Definition of child abuse and neglect
In simple words, child abuse and neglect can be defined as acts that involve ill-treating or mistreating a child. Direct child abuse or neglect may constitute acts that can cause emotional and/or physical harm to the child, while indirect child abuse or neglect constitutes the failure to protect a child from suffering emotional and/or physical harm. Sec. 261.001 of the Texas Family Code explicitly describes the “acts or omissions” that are included in child abuse ("Family code chapter 261"). Expectations and standards of parenting behavior vary in different parts of the world in different cultures, which must be taken into account when addressing child abuse. Despite the divergence of cultures, most people from practically generally agree that child abuse is not tolerable, especially where physical and sexual abuse are concerned, and should be severely punished. (Bross, 2000).
Types of child abuse
While some definitions of child abuse specifically emphasize on the acts or omissions of adults, but in most definitions child abuse occurs whenever a child is harmed or is under threat of being harmed (Straus, 1989). Within a wide range of abuses, there are mainly four types of child abuse, namely emotional abuse, physical abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse/exploitation.
▪Emotional abuse: Committing acts that can adversely affect the emotional development and health of a child can be defined as emotional abuse. These acts may include both physical and nonphysical forms of antagonistic treatment, such as intimidating, ridiculing, and threatening a child. Emotional maltreatment is included in the definitions of child abuse or neglect in almost every state.
▪Physical abuse: Intentionally committing acts that may physically injure or can potentially cause physical harm to child can be defined as physical abuse. These may include any act that could physically impair a child, such as biting, burning, hitting, or kicking a child.
▪Neglect: When a parent or caregiver fails to provide a child with education, food, safe living conditions, and other necessities for the development of the child even though they are in a position to do so, it is referred to as neglect. Neglect cannot take place when the caregivers or parents are poor but only when they have reasonable resources but they still do not provide for their child.
▪Sexual abuse/exploitation: Committing acts that involve using a child for sexual gratification can be defined as sexual abuse. Sexual exploitation is also a form of sexual abuse in which a child is forced to take part the production of child pornography, or in prostitution.
Risk factors for child abuse and neglect
Why child abuse takes place within families can be explained based on various models and theories. One such model that can be adopted in order to explain the occurrence of child abuse is the ecological model. According to the ecological model, there are relatively consistent factors that increase the risk of the occurrence of child abuse. The following factors make a child more vulnerable to suffer abuse at the hands of their parent or caregiver:
▪Age: The age of children determines how vulnerable they might be to abuse, whether it is emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, or neglect. It has been that mostly young infants are fatally abused by their parents or caregivers. Young children are prone to being non-fatally, physically abused, though the peak ages where they are still prone to being physically abused varies from one country to another. On the other hand, as children grow closer to puberty, they are at a higher risk of being sexually abused (Madu & Peltzer, 2000). However, even young children can be sexually abused too.
▪Gender: Girls are at a higher risk of suffering child abuse than boys. Girls are more likely to become victims of sexual abuse and exploitation. Similarly, girls are more prone to being neglected, such as being denied education and proper nutrition. On the other hand, boys are at a higher risk of physical abuse than girls.
▪Special characteristics: Within many families, handicapped children, and other special children are often physically abused and neglected, which puts them at a higher risk for these abuses (National Research Council, 1993). Views regarding whether or not mental retardation is a risk factor when it comes to child abuse tend to vary. It is believed that parents or caregivers have trouble bonding with children who are physically or mentally handicapped, and this makes them more vulnerable to abuse than normal children. However, when considering other factors these special characteristics do not seem to be major risk factors.
The consequences of child abuse
▪Health consequences: Abusing children has its consequences, especially in the form of ill-health, and this only adds up to the burden of disease all over the world. Years ago, very few consequences of child abuse had been researched (Bendixen, Muus & Schei, 1994), but today, health professionals have been paying more attention of the adverse effects that abuse can have on a child’s health. There is evidence that children who have been abused during their childhood are more likely to suffer from major illnesses, such as cancer, chronic lung disease, irritable bowel syndrome, ischaemic heart disease, and fibromyalgia. The short and long-term psychological damage of child abuse has also been demonstrated by many studies. Serious psychiatric symptoms in children who have been victims of child abuse include aggression, anxiety, cognitive impairments, depression, shame, sleep disorders or substance abuse. Depending on the stage of development during which the child was abused, how severely the child was abused, the duration of the abuse, the relationship of the abuser to the child, and other factors can influence the extent of the behavioral, emotional, and physical symptoms that may manifest.
▪Financial consequences: Victims of child abuse and neglect require short and long-term care, and financial costs incurred also add up to the total burden caused by child abuse and neglect. The direct costs include the costs that the health care system has to bear so that the abused children may get medical care. Constant abuse of children can also disable them, decrease their quality of life, make them less productive, and even result in premature death, leading to other indirect costs. In situations where perpetrators of child abuse are arrested and prosecuted, the criminal justice system has to bear the costs. Similarly, social welfare organizations that take up the responsibility of abused children also have to bear costs every time a child suffers abuse and the abuse is reported.
How can child abuse and neglect be prevented?
Preventing child abuse is a serious social policy, surprisingly the effectiveness of methods that can actually prevent child abuse have not been adequately explored, even today. Of course, some of these methods, such as home visitation, have been carefully and closely examined (Olds, Henderson, Chamberlin & Tatelbaum, 1986), but many more methods of intervention have not been sufficiently evaluated (MacMillan, 2000).
Most child abuse intervention programs emphasize on the children who have been abused or the perpetrators who have committed child abuse and neglect. Only a small number of these intervention programs focus on approaches that aim to prevent child abuse and neglect from taking place in the first place. Nonetheless, child abuse and neglect can be prevented by through the following approaches:
Family support approaches
▪Parental training: There are numerous interventions that can improve parenting practices and provide family support to families in which child abuse is more likely to occur. The main purpose of these programs is to teach parents about child development and assist them in improving their skills so they can manage the behavior of their children. The occurrences of child abuse can be increasingly reduced by educating and training all parents in this area rather than only those are likely to abuse or have already abused and neglected their children.
▪Home visitation: The purpose of home visitation programs is to provide families with community resources. Numerous negative outcomes, including child abuse and even youth violence, can be prevented by home visitation and other such intervention programs (Olds, Henderson, Chamberlin & Tatelbaum, 1986). Professionals offer services to enable the family to function better during these home visits. Again, home visitation and other these types of intervention programs can be provided to all families, and not just families in which the risk of the occurrence of child abuse is high.
▪Intensive family preservation: Intensive family preservation intervention is meant for families in which child abuse has already occurred. The purpose of this type of intervention is to ensure that these families do not break apart and the children do not end up in foster care. The duration of this type of intervention is generally short. Depending on the needs of a particular family, they are usually offered a wide variety of services, including practical services and different forms of therapy. State works particularly take this approach of intervening in families when more than one child is in impending danger of being placed in foster care.
Therapeutic remedies for victims of child abuse
There are many factors that determine how one should respond to child abuse and neglect. That is why there are a variety of therapeutic services that can be provided to depending on these factors.
▪Therapy for victims: Improving the cognitive and development skills of children who have been abused is necessary, which can be ideally achieved through therapeutic day care (Oates & Bross, 1995). There is also evidence that supports that therapeutic day care can reverse the psychological symptoms of child abuse.
▪Therapy for adults abused as children: The cause of many mental and psychological problems in adults can be traced back to being abused as a child (Dube, Anda, Chapman, Williamson & Giles, 2001). Children who are abused often grow up without being identified and the symptoms of child abuse can manifest in adulthood. Just like therapeutic day care can help victims of child abuse who are still in their childhood, therapeutic services from mental health organizations can prove to be beneficial for adults.
Child abuse is a health problem around the world; it is a common global phenomenon. In many countries, the public and health professionals do not recognize child abuse as the serious problem that it is. There is a lot more that can be done and should be done about child abuse. Being aware of and recognizing child abuse as well as effective ways is of preventing this problem, is the only way to solve it.
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