Should Abused Children Be Taken From Their Families?
Child abuse is a serious crime and can damage children in physical and mental ways.
For some, the first instinct when a child is at risk for abuse in their home is to remove that child from their home. But is that always the best case?
First, it is important to define what exactly constitutes as child abuse. According to the CAPTA (Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act), Child abuse and neglect is any 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. There are four main types of child abuse; physical, sexual, emotional, and neglect although one form of abuse rarely occurs alone. Although each form of abuse is fairly self explanatory, each state does have its own specific definition under its child protection laws.
Signs of child abuse to look for are aggressive, disruptive, and sometimes illegal behavior; anger and rage, or feelings of sadness or other symptoms of depression; Anxiety or fears, or flashbacks and nightmares; Broken bones or internal injuries; Burns; Changes in a child's behavior or school performance; Constant hunger or thirst; Cuts and bruises; Dirty hair or skin, frequent diaper rash; Drug and alcohol abuse; Hard-to-believe stories about how accidents occurred; Lack of interest in surroundings; Lack of supervision; Passive or withdrawn behavior; Poor self-image; Sexual acting out; Self-destructive or self-abusive behavior, suicidal thoughts; School problems or failure; The child seems guarded and startles easily; The child loiters at school or friends' houses; The child seems reluctant to go home.
It is upsetting how often children die from abuse in their homes. For instance in 2006, the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System reported an estimated 1530 child fatalities caused by an injury resulting from abuse or neglect. Many believe that child fatalities due to abuse or neglect are underreported, for example studies in Colorado and North Carolina estimated that 50 to 60 percent of child deaths resulting from abuse or neglect are not reported as such. According to research, very young children are the ones that are most often victims of child abuse, in fact in 2006, children younger than 1 year accounted for 44.2 percent of fatalities. Because of their dependency, small size, and inability to defend themselves, these younger children are most venerable for abuse.
Fatal child abuse involves either repeated abuse over a period of time or a single impulsive incident, while fatal neglect results not from what a caregiver does but their failure to act. No matter how child abuse occurs, the main concern is the individual or individuals responsible. In 2006 one or both parents were responsible for 75.9 percent of child abuse or neglect fatalities. Although there is no single profile of a perpetrator of fatal child abuse, certain characteristics do appear in many studies. Often times, the perpetrator is a young adult in his or her mid-20s, without a high school diploma, living at or below the poverty level, depressed, and who may have difficulty coping with stressful situations. In frequent circumstances the perpetrator has experienced violence first-hand, and most fatalities from physical abuse are caused by fathers and other male caretakers while mothers are most often responsible for deaths resulting from child neglect.
This brings us to the question, how can these fatalities, the abuse and neglect be prevented? Is home visits, and parental education enough to keep a child safe from the potential abuse from their caregivers? Initially, the decision to remove a child from his or her home involves weighing the risks and benefits of the child remaining in the home against separation from familiar caregivers. Removal will likely cause disruptions such as changes in school, and separation from peer support group, and these disruptions must be taken into consideration.
Although breaking up a family is difficult...
Sometimes, in cases of extreme cruelty, sexual abuse, and severe drug and alcohol abuse, children will be much safer if they are away from their caregiver.
However, not all abusive parents intend to hurt their children and some just need help to realize they are hurting their children and can work on their problems. In the instance of domestic violence, a mother might be trying to do her best to protect her children from an abusive husband and doesn’t realize that the children are being emotionally if not physically abused as well. If all the mother needs is help leaving her husband and some supportive counseling, there is no reason to take her children away from her without at least trying to help her first. When alcohol and drug abuse come into play, drug abusers are often so focused on their addiction that they end up hurting their children without even realizing it. In order to help the children sometimes all that is needed is getting the parents help and support for their addiction so they can put the focus back on their children. Sometimes a parent with a mental illness such as depression has trouble responding to their own needs let alone the needs of their children. If a parent or caregiver suffers from an emotional trauma, they may be distant and withdrawn from their child or quick to anger without understanding why and in this situation treatment for the caregiver means better treatment for the children.
Sometimes, caregivers have not learned the skills that are necessary for good parenting, for example teen parents may have unrealistic expectations about how much care children need or why young children are prone to tantrums. Other times social and cultural expectations of good child raising from the past may not be considered that good today, for example in previous generations strict physical discipline was considered essential in teaching a child to behave.
Proper education can help caregivers immensely in giving information on raising children and parenting classes not only can help teen parents but parents who were abused as children themselves and need to learn new parenting patterns. Parents and children can also benefit from education about managing stress and building healthy relationships. Children also need to be educated to help protect themselves against abuse, they need to learn that abuse is never their fault and it is never OK. Some things that can help prevent sexual abuse is to teach children about inappropriate touch and that they should never keep secrets that make them uncomfortable.
Child abuse and neglect fatalities: statistics and interventions. (2008). Retrieved March 1, 2009 from http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/fatality.pdf
Joanna Saisan, MSW, Ellen Jaffe-Gill, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. (2008). Child abuse and neglect: warning signs of abuse and how to report it. Retrieved March 1, 2009 from http://www.helpguide.org/mental/child_abuse_physical_emotional_sexual_neglect.htm
Newton, C.J. MA. (2001). Child abuse: an overview. Retrieved February 15, 2009 from Find Counseling web site: http://www.findcounseling.com/journal/child-abuse/
Virginia M. DeRoma, Maria Lynn Kessler, Ryan McDaniel, Cesar M. Soto. (2006). Important Risk Factors in Home-Removal Decisions: Social Caseworker Perceptions. Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal, 23(3), 263-277. Retrieved March 2, 2009, from Research Library database. (Document ID: 1148769851).