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Child Abuse: History, Causes, Prevention, Reporting and Effects

Updated on December 3, 2018
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I had my son, Owen, in September. Since then I have made it my goal to share my experience with products and with life in general w/ others

Child Abuse:  History, Causes, Prevention, Reporting and Effects




Introduction: 

            Child abuse is a social issue that affects everyone.  In 2002, there were Eight-hundred and ninety-six-thousand reported victims of child abuse (that’s equivalent to one in a hundred American’s) (Pass S, 2007).  There are even more cases that go unreported.  The different types of child abuse are physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, parental substance abuse and abandonment (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2007).  The most common form of child abuse is neglect and is around sixty-three-percent of reports of abuse in the United States (Silent Symphony Inc., 2007). 

As teachers it is important for us to have an understanding of; the history of child abuse, causes of child abuse, ways to prevent child abuse and when to report it and an understanding of the lasting affects that child abuse can have.  Teacher’s see their students on a daily basis.  Making teacher’s one of a child’s best advocates.  This is partially why teachers are mandated reporters.  It is our ethical responsibility to keep children safe.  How is a child supposed to develop and learn when they are not safe in their homes and communities?   

History:

             Child abuse can cause irreversible damage that remains into adulthood.  Surprisingly it has not become a social issue that gets attention until recently.  Child abuse is seen as an issue that only everyone working together can stop.  Child abuse is not just a family issue it stretches out into the community.  It unfortunately can go undetected for so long because child abuse is associated with parents who do not have strong social networks and who are usually not a part of the community. 

In 1874 children were still seen as property.  They had rights similar to the rights of animals.  Meaning anything could be done to them by their “owner” i.e. the child’s parents/ legal guardians.  During this time if a child was taken out of an abusive home and put into and orphanage they didn’t have a much better chance of surviving.  If adopted they would most likely become an indentured servant to the family (Jalongo, M., 2006). 

The article “The Story of Mary Ellen Wilson:  Training the origins of child protection in America” tells the story of a little girl who is abused and who’s abuser’s almost walk away with nothing because children where not protected by the law.  This little girl was nine years old and had never been outside.  Neighbors had only heard Mary Ellen’s cries in the night.  Etta Wheeler a mission worker heard about Mary Ellen.  Etta was able to get into the apartment to see her.  She said the little girl did not speak and she had to stand on a step-stool to do the dishes because this nine-year-old had the body development of a five-year-old.  She was inadequately dressed for the season and had laceration on her arms and legs from the whip that was sitting on the kitchen table.  She wasn’t able to run and play outside with other children and had no bed or toys (Jalongo, M., 2006).  There were no laws protecting this little girl and no laws that could get her out of the house.

Henry Bergh was an animal activist.  He strived for humane treatment of animals in the circus, he created an ambulance for horses, and advocated for lighter loads for horses to carry and bits that would not make them bleed.  Etta Wheeler saw how successful Bergh was with his activism with animals and asked him for his help with Mary Ellen.  Bergh was reluctant but, he did it.  They were able to take Mary Ellen out of her home on the basis of obscure stature.  Mary Ellen was brought before the court with the existing gashes on her arms and legs and had a new gauge across her face from her mother hitting her with a pair of scissors.  Jacob Riis a photographer/ reformer in the nineteenth century said “I saw a child brought in...at the sight of which men wept aloud.  And as I looked, I knew I was where the first chapter of children’s rights was written’’ (Jalongo, M., 2006). 

            Mary Ellen was not brought back into the home.  She was adopted by a family who would love and care for her.  Her abuser was given a year of hard labor in a penitentiary.  Henry Bergh, soon after, helped create the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (1874).  In the first year three-hundred cases were examined (Jalongo, M., 2006). 

            It is unsettling to think that not until 1874 was there an organization for the welfare of children.  It’s even harder to understand why animal’s had an organization for their well-being before children did.  This article reminds us the importance of having advocates for children who suffer from abuse.    

            In the eighteen hundreds it was easier for children like Mary Ellen to not be educated and just fall through the cracks.  It was not mandatory for children to go to school so a child could be severely abused and never seen by anyone (even though you still hear stories of children being locked away).  It may sound like children were treated worse than livestock.  During this time there were still individuals who did not believe in harsh punishment and abusing the children.  Robert Owen lived from 1771 to 1858, in England.  He had seen the harsh working conditions that young children were submitted to in factories.  Children endured both physical and sexual abuse.  Children where more likely to work in factories and endure this abuse if they came from poverty.  Factories separated the two classes.  The rich got richer and the poor got poorer (Wolfe, J., 2000). This is similar to children today who live in poverty.  Seventy-percent of reported abuse is from children living in poverty (Fantuzzo, 1997).

 Even though children at this time could be treated like livestock there were individuals like Robert Owen who felt that children should not be “scolded or punished”.  According to Owen “Punishment…will never be required, and should be avoided as much as giving poison in their food” (Wolfe, J., 2000).  Over a hundred years ago child abuse was compared to giving poison to a child.  Yet we still, to this day use corporal punishment in Twenty-three states (www.umsl.edu, 2008). 

Causes of Child Abuse:

            One of the major causes of child abuse is poverty and ignorance of issues.  The staggering statistic I stated earlier that seventy-percent of reported children being abused are from families who live in poverty (Fantuzzo, J, W., 1997).  Unfortunately this is not the only factor.

 I interviewed someone close to me named Barbara.  Barbara who is now an adult was severely abused as a child.  She endured physical, emotional, neglect, and sexual abuse.  She actually attended local group homes (St. Anne’s, Parson’s, and others) and attended the college of St. Rose about twenty-years ago.   Her story is heartbreaking but, is also a perfect example of causes of child abuse and the environment for child abuse to happen.  Her parents never left the house, only her father would go to work.    They had four children, her mother was mentally ill, her parents were both alcoholics and they lived in poverty.  They were not able to properly feed, clothe or shelter their children and the environment was anything but healthy.  She never had a bed to sleep in or a Thanksgiving or Christmas until she was removed from the house when she and her sister were eleven and twelve (interview H, B, 2009).  All of these things made her family susceptible to abuse and neglect.  The family had poverty, mental illness, drug/alcohol abuse and lack of social and community networks.  These are all major determinant in child abuse.  If it was not for advocates like teachers, social workers and kind-hearted individuals Barbara could have fallen into the cycle of abuse that many do.  

            There other risk factors as well.  In an article entitled “Child Maltreatment:  A Global Issue” the correlation between children with disabilities and child abuse is discussed.  Children with a disability are more likely to be abused.  At the same time a child is more likely to develop a disability if they experience abuse (Westby, C., E., 2007).  A child who is born premature / low birth weight or has/had a prolonged illness is more likely to be abused as well.  A study found that 9% of child abuse reported was of typically developing children, 31% of reported children had a disability, 35% hearing impaired, and 28% mentally disabled (Westby, C., E., 2007).  The article said that the reason a disability may correlate to child abuse is because of the added stresses and that the parents may lack the understanding of what should be expected from the child. 

            The article continues to discuss the difference in cultural backgrounds and their beliefs of punishment.  This is when I believe working closely with the family can be beneficial.  Working with families (whether they have different culture/customs or not) to create the healthiest environment at home and at school should be our goal.  As well as still working with their individual and cultural needs. 

Prevention and Reporting of Child Abuse:

One of the first steps to eliminating child abuse is to understand ways to prevent it and what to do if you suspect a child you know is being abused.  Prevention involves working with high-risk families from the beginning.  When the mother is pregnant and when the child is born having social networks, certified or not, to help can have lasting affects.  Child abuse is a global issue that needs a plan to help as many children as possible.  Early prevention and supportive schooling community is the key to stopping child abuse.     

In South Carolina in the year 2007, eight teachers were caught in sex scandals involving their students.  Those who are supposed to report are the one’s putting these children’s welfare at risk.  This led the state to launch a state-wide effort to prevent sexual abuse as well as other forms of abuse.  South Carolina sent ten-thousand teachers to a two and a half hour training on the topic, as well as, one teacher from each district to a full- day training (McNeil, M, 2008). 

Nearly half of the reports of child abuse made by children are made to teachers.  Making it even more important for teachers to know what to do when suspecting abuse especially if a child comes to you telling you they are abused.  Having a plan of action can be very beneficial to the child’s safety and emotional well-being (McNeil, M, 2008).   Unfortunately, Eighty-four-percent of American teachers don’t report suspected abuse (Teachers' Reporting of Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect, 2008).

Teachers need to understand that they can make a huge dent in stopping child abuse.  By sending  thousands of teachers to training.  South Carolina is taking the first step towards stopping child abuse.  Since such an alarming rate of teachers do not report I think that it should be a school and community team effort to help stop the abuse.  In an artilce “Child Abuse and Neglect:  Knowing when to Intervine” the author discusses a graph that was created for teachers to decide when to take action and report.  The statistics of child abuse are outstandingly high numbers.  It is surprising that more teachers to not have plans of action and a plan when to intervine.  When teachers work with children everyday, and are a childs best advocates.  The chart that the author introduces takes three different determinant 1.  Behavioral symptoms 2. Physical symptoms 3. A combination of both.  If a child has behavioral symptoms the teacher should make a note for refrence in the future.  Physical symptoms should lead to a parent teacher conference, as well as consulting with the school nurse, principal, and school counselor.  When the child presents both, the teacher should contact local child protective service (Pass, S, 2007).  Putting this onto a chart with physical symptoms on one axis and behavioral on another axis will give the teacher a concrete indicator to look at to decide when reporting is necessary and best decision for the child.             

Waiting to long can lead to putting a child in direct danger.  As teachers it is our obligation to keep children safe not allowing them to stay in harms way.  The author Susan Pass tells a story of when she was a teacher.  She waited to report and talked to the parents about her concerns.  Before she was able to report the family up and moved out of the area.  The child stayed in the abusive family, without the help and support to fix the problems(Pass, S, 2007).  Although a teacher may be nervous to report it is in the best interest of the child.  It will take five minutes of your time and could have positive life-long lasting effects on the child.

Unfortunetly, even though it can have such a great impact on student’s we still don’t report.  In a Aulstrian study a questionairre was passed around fifteen schools asking teachers to share their experience of reporting child abuse.  The teacher were classified as three types of reporters.  The two main areas were reporters (80% of teachers) and non detectors (19% of teachers).  Reporter’s is then split into two areas consitent (82% of reporters were consitent) and inconsitent (18% of reporters were inconsitent.) (Teachers’ reporting of suspected child abuse and neglect:  behavior determinants, 2008).  The results found that teachers were more likely to report if they had more experience teaching and it also depended on their qalification as teacher’s.  Teachers with a four year degree were more likely to report than a teacher with a three year degree (Teachers’ reporting of suspected child abuse and neglect:  behavior determinants, 2008).

This article is evidence that teachers need to be informed and educated.  It is important for teacher’s to know the signs to be able to protect and take action for the child.  Instead of being unsure.  Having a plan similar to the plan Susan Pass introduced in her article “Child Abuse and Neglect Knowing when to Intervene”, can prepare teacher’s so when a situation arises you can react in split seconds.  With action that will best suit the child’s need.

Effects of Child Abuse:

            Child abuse can have life-long effects.  I found two articles addressing two aspects of abuse.  One discusses the lasting effects child abuse has on a person and the other discusses what goes into the treatment of the effects of child abuse.

In the article “Call to Action:  Reducing Interpersonal Violence Across the Life Span” effects of violence and abuse in any part of an individuals life is discussed.  Violence can lead to death, injury, as well as physical, sexual problems and sexual risk taking, reproductive and mental health problems and addiction to drugs, alcohol and smoking(Russo, N., F., 2008). 

Children who are abused are also more likely to experience violence in other chapters of their lives (Russo, N, F, 2008).  They may experience violence in their adult relationships and even violence toward their own children.  The main point of this article is “Understanding and preventing violence will require a complex and comprehensive approach that intervenes at individual, interpersonal, and structural levels and that is responsive to cultural difference.” (Russo, N, F, 2008).

The next article addresses dealing with the effects of child abuse in an inpatient treatment facility.    Professional began to realize that what children are experiencing after years of child abuse is not mental illness but signs of stress (post traumatic stress).  The treatment used for victims of child abuse is similar to the treatment used for veteran combat soldiers.  The model used in this experiment was the “Sanctuary model”.  It had three main components, they are 1.) The Community:  the study used group format to work together through their problems.  2.)  Safety:  Creating a safe environment both physically and emotionally. and 3.)  Addressing Problematic Behavior: and helping to change the behavior. A variety of different treatments were used.  There were psychiatric, psychology, nursing, occupational therapist, social workers, recreation therapists, creative art therapist and pastoral care (Palmer, S., et. al., 2004).  

There were thirty participants out of those thirty; twenty-five were woman between the ages of 20 and 54.  There average gross income was $20,000-$29,000.  The program offered these individuals a variety staff to talk to and work with them on validating feelings, they worked on their emotions, participated in process groups, learned skills of self help, gained insight, knowledge and information,  and created and maintained a safe environment for the patients.  The difficulty with the program was that it opened old wounds that were not closed by the time of discharge, leading to more difficulties and problems, and a lack of follow-up for these individuals were noted.  They felt as if their wounds were opened then they were forgotten about (not all felt this way) (Palmer, S., et. al., 2004).  

The article suggests that we need to make more inpatient trauma recovery, in a time in America that we are discontinuing them.  We are allowing children to slip through the cracks and not preventing child abuse or helping children cope when it does happen (Palmer, S., et. al., 2004).  

Helping a child who has been abused can spare or lessen the life-long effects on the child.  It is up to us to prevent child abuse, for those situations we cannot prevent it is important for us to help the child with coping skills and reporting to the proper authorities.

Conclusion:

            Child abuse is a national social issue that can only be fixed if we all work together.  After looking at the statistics that nearly a million children are abused every year and that’s with eighty-four percent of teachers not reporting.  If every teacher reported suspected child abuse the statistics would probably double. 

            If every teacher had a better understanding of child abuse and its history, its causes, prevention and reporting and effects of child abuse we would be one step closer to stopping child abuse and its devastating effect on children around the world.  With the help of teachers as advocates for abused children we can hopefully decrease these overwhelming statistics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

-  Barbara.  (2009, Feb. 8).  Child abuse.  (K. Hamilton, interviewer).

Corporal Punishment. (2008). Retrieved January 27, 2009, from UMSL: http://www.umsl.edu/~tlc/EDUC212-Navarro/Disk6/CorporalPunishment.html

-  Fantuzzo, J. (1997). A Partnership Directed School-Based Intervention for child Physical Abuse and Neglect: Beyond Mandatory Reporting. The School Psychology Review , 298-313.

-  Gateway, C. W. (2007, April). Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect. Retrieved January 27, 2009, from Child Welfare Information Gateway: http://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/define.cfm

-  Jalongo, M. (2006). The Story of Mary Ellen Wilson: Training the Orgins of Child Protection in America. Education Journal , 14-15.

-  McNeil, M. (2008). South Carolina Training Aimed at Sex-Abused Prevention . Education Week , 14-15.

-  Palmer, S. P. (2007). What Works for Survivors of Childhood Abuse: Learning From Participants in an inpaitient treatment program. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry , 112-121.

-  Pass, S. (2007). Child Abuse an Neglect: Knowing When to Intervene. Kappa Delta Pi Record , 133-138.

-  Russo, N. F. (2004). Call to Action: Reducing Interpersonal Violence Across the Lifespan. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry , 112-121.

-  Silent Symphony. (2008). Retrieved January 28, 2009, from SilentSymphony Inc.: http://www.umsl.edu/~tlc/EDUC212-Navarro/Disk6/CorporalPunishment.html

-  Teachers' Reporting of Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect: Behavior and Determinants. (2008). Health Education Research , 941-951.

-  Westby, C. E. (2007). Child Maltreatment: A Global Issue. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools , 140-148.

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