The pathogenic care of children causes lifelong consequences for the child, their family and friends, and the community at large. Research shows a strong correlation between childhood abuse and a multitude of personal and social problems such as mental illness, being a victim or perpetrator of abuse, and a host of self destructive and deviant behaviors (Prevent Child Abuse NC, 2015). Through the utilization of a multisystemic approach children can be removed from pathogenic care, either through actual removal or family intervention strategies, and helped to heal. While the trauma of the abuse is never erased, studies have shown that with patience, sensitivity, and empathetic understanding from healthy caregivers, engaged professionals, and community members he damage can be made less (Cole, 2005).
While children throughout the ages have experienced what we now term “child abuse” actually labeling the issue is fairly new (Pfohl, 1977). Throughout history children have been subjected to whatever their caregivers chose with no hope for relief or intervention from those outside of the home. Parents, guardians, and other adults had no limitations on the way they chose to discipline or parent those in their care with the general belief that as their caregiver they knew best. There were three reform movements that were primarily responsible for the change in the way child abuse was viewed: House of Refuge Movement, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children crusades, and the juvenile court system (Pfohl, 1977).
The House of Refuge Movement
The House of Refuge Movement was highly criticized for it’s constitutionality because they took children from situations that they deemed bad or improper and placed them in an institutional setting, essentially locking up the innocent without due process (Pfohl, 1977). Still yet, it did help to intervene in abuse and neglect situations that had previously gone unnoticed. The House of Refuge Movement lacked in that acted more on prevention with no responses to actual incidents of child abuse. While the House of Refuge Movement had good intentions, our understanding of attachment and trauma today highlights the utter devastation these types of placements left in their wake. Overpopulated institutions were simply unable to meet the needs of the children in their care, especially with the additional needs experienced by children who had been victims of abuse.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
When a nine-year-old girl became the victim of extreme child abuse at the hands of her foster parents, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals came into the public scene as a champion for the abused (Pfohl, 1977). They argued that because children were animals they deserved the same protections (Stark, 2014). The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children arose from this movement years later but was not successful due to a lack of funding, poor public interest, and being identified as part of the House of Refuge Movement and other similar public agencies (Pfohl, 1977).
Between the years of 1962-1964 child abuse became illegal in all fifty states after the legislatures passed statues defining and prohibiting the abuse of children (Pfohl, 1977). Prior to this, child beating was considered a necessary part of life to obtain “disciplinary, educational, and religious obedience” (Pfohl, 1977, p.310). What was tragic is that despite it becoming illegal, child abuse still remained fairly invisible with the problem being considered a social issue rather than trauma to an individual child.
The Juvenile Court System
The juvenile court system has changed dramatically since its inception. Originally juvenile courts were utilized to prevent the development of “lower class,” focusing on the victims of abuse rather than holding those who perpetrated the abuse accountable (Pfohl, 1977). The preventative phenology of the early juvenile justice system eventually failed pushed primarily by the Great Depression (Pfohl, 1977). It became evident that children needed a more individualized approach rather than one that merely worked to prevent society from being negatively affected by them. Child abuse was still difficult to recognize due to four factors: a failure of doctors to recognize abuse as a diagnosis because they did not fit with the original X-ray indicators of abuse, a lack of doctors ability to believe that parents were capable of abusing their children, a fear of liability for violating confidentiality norms, and a doctors desire to avoid becoming involved in the criminal justice system (Pfohl, 1977).
While advances continued, the publication of the article “The Battered Child Syndrome” in 1962 by the Journal of the American Medical Association stands as a “symbolic focal point” for the identification of child abuse (Pfohl, 1977, p. 319). By labeling abuse as a diagnosable illness caused by “psychopathic” perpetrators with “defects in character structure” eliminated many of the previously mentioned issues that kept child abuse from being recognized and perpetrators from being identified (Pfohl, 1977, p. 319). Recognition by the medical community lead to a general push for the investigation, prevention, and treatment of childhood abuse; known as the child abuse reporting movement (Pfohl, 1977).
Prevalence of Abuse
According to Childhelp.org (2013) and the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (2009): a report of child abuse is made every ten seconds, four children die everyday from child abuse, or an American is sexually assaulted every two minutes. The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) recognize and report four types of abuse: physical abuse, psychological abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse (Child Welfare Information Center). When physical force is used to cause pain, injury, or other bodily harm it is called physical abuse (Goldman et al., 2003). A caregiver commits psychological abuse or maltreatment when they behave in a way that conveys feelings of worthlessness to the child (Goldman et al., 2003). Neglect occurs when a caregiver fails to meet the needs of the child through a lack of action (Goldman, Salus, Wolcott, & Kennedy, 2003). Fondling, intercourse, rape, incest, sodomy, exhibitionism, sexual exploitation, and exposure to pornography are all forms of sexual abuse recognized by the NCANDS (Child Welfare Information Center, 2010).
Utilizing the above-mentioned definitions of abuse, it is estimated that approximately 695 thousand new reports came through the NCANDS in 2010. Neglect accounted for78.3% of reports, 17.6% experienced physical abuse, and 9.2% experienced sexual abuse. The reports of psychological abuse are harder to prove and are less likely to be reported as a separate incident (Child Welfare Information Center, 2010).
Consequences of Child Abuse
Child abuse has far reaching consequences. Prevent Child Abuse NC (2015) reports that abuse and neglect issues extend beyond the immediate physical, emotional, social service, and intervention costs of the criminal justice system. As the children grow up they experience problems with physical and mental health, lost productivity, and the cost of their interactions with the adult criminal justice system as a victim or perpetrator (Prevent Child Abuse NC, 2015).
Abuse victims lack the coping skills necessary to handle oth the trauma they have experienced and life in general. As children grow into young adults those who experience abuse are more likely to consider suicide as a coping mechanism because they see and feel on a regular basis a deep sense of hopelessness about their lives (Clinton & Clark, 2010). These children are always on guard and waiting on the next blow to come. Sometimes the waiting becomes too much, the pain too intense, the burden too heavy and so they try to escape the only way they know how, to die.
A teen that experiences the trauma of family violence is likely to create cognitive distortions (Clinton & Clark, 2010). Cognitive distortions are inaccurate thoughts that are used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions. Adolescents with cognitive distortions overestimate the “magnitude and insolubility of problems” (Clinton & Clark, 2010, p. 266). Cognitive distortions that play a role in adolescent suicide are “hopelessness, problem solving deficits, cognitive rigidity, dichotomous thinking, perfectionism, personalizing, catastrophising, and time perspective” (Oncu & Sakarya, 2013). The cognitive distortions most often include false beliefs about what has happened, why it happened, as well as blaming themselves, the victim, or anyone or agency who attempts to intervene (Oncu & Sakarya, 2013). There are multiple interventions which have been shown to help teens struggling with suicidal thoughts such as “crisis hotlines, school based educational and screening procedures, effective treatment of suicide attempters, minimizing opportunities for suicide imitation, and controlling access to items commonly used to commit suicide” (Shaffer, Garland, Gould, Fisher & Trautman, 1988).
Child abuse is a social problem that has multisystemic consequences for those involved as well as the community at large. While child abuse has existed throughout history, until recently it was thought to be a necessary act to keep children in line. Parents who abused children were seen as exercising their rights instead of causing harm to those in their care. The community generally ignored the abuse and took far too many years to ever intervene. The lack of intervention lead to perpetual cycles of abuse repeated one generation after another. It will not be easy to change things, but with awareness and commitment by various community members there is hope for improvement in the life of the abused child.
Child Help. (2013). National child abuse statisics: Child abuse in America. Retrieved from http://www.childhelp.org/pages/statistics
Child Welfare Information Center. (2010). Foster Care Statistics. http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/foster.cfm. Retrieved October 26, 2015.
Clinton, T. E., Clark, C., & Straub, J. (2010). The quick-reference guide to counseling teenagers. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.
Goldman, J., Salus, M. K., Wolcott, D., Kennedy, K. Y. (2003). Office on Child Abuse and Neglect. A Coordinated Response to Child Abuse and Neglect: The Foundation for Practice. Retrived October 10, 2015 from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/usermanuals/foundation/foundationm.cfm#psychologicalmaltreatment
McWhirter, Jeffries J., McWhirter, Benedict T., McWhirter, Ellen Hawley, and McWhirter, Robert J. (2013). At Risk Youth (5th ed.). Belmont, CA, United States: Brooks/Cole.
Oncu, B. & Sakarya, A. (2013). Role of cognitive factors and distortions in adolescent suicides. Current Approaches in Psychiatry, 5 (2), 232-245.
Phol, S. J. (1977). The discovery of child abuse. Social Problems, 24(3), 310-323. Retrieved from https://ezproxy.shsu.edu/login?url=http://www.jstor.org/stable/800083
Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina. (2015). Impact of child abuse and neglect. Retrieved from http://www.preventchildabusenc.org/about-child-abuse/impact-of-child-abuse-and-neglect
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. (2009). Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.rainn.org/statistics
Rodriguez, C. M. (2010). Parent-child aggression: Association with child abuse potential and parenting styles. Violence And Victims, 25(6), 728-741. Retrieved from https://ezproxy.shsu.edu/login?url=http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1891/0886-6708.25.6.728
Stark, E. (2007). Coervice control: How men entrap women in personal life. New York, New York: Oxford University Press.
Shaffer, D., Garland, A., Gould, M., Fisher, P., & Trautman, P. (1988). Preventing teenage suicide: a critical review. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 27(6), 675-687.