Child Abuse and Domestic Violence, 2009
Causes of Child Abuse
Child abuse is primarily a problem within families. Even though abuse by nonfamily members does occur, most victims are abused by one or more of their parents. For this reason, much of the research into the causes of child abuse has focused on families and the characteristics and circumstances that can contribute to violence within them. The 1975 National Family Violence Survey and the 1985 National Family Violence Resurvey, conducted by Murray A. Straus and Richard J. Gelles, are the most complete studies of spousal and parent-child abuse yet prepared in the United States. Unlike most studies of child abuse, the data from these surveys came from detailed interviews with the general population, not from cases that came to the attention of official agencies and professionals. Therefore, Straus and Gelles had a more intimate knowledge of the families and an awareness of incidences of child abuse that were not reported to authorities or community professionals. Straus and Gelles believe that cultural standards permit violence in the family. They incorporated research from the two surveys and additional chapters into the book Physical Violence in American Families: Risk Factors and Adaptations to Violence in 8,145 Families (1990). Understanding Factors that Contribute to Child Abuse
The factors contributing to child maltreatment are complex. In Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-3; 1993), the most comprehensive federal source of information about the incidence of child maltreatment in the United States, Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst find that family structure and size, poverty, alcohol and substance abuse, domestic violence, and community violence are contributing factors to child abuse and neglect. Even though these and other factors affect the likelihood of child maltreatment, they do not necessarily lead to abuse. It is important to understand that the causes of child abuse and the characteristics of families in which child abuse occurs are only indicators. Most parents, even in the most stressful and demanding situations, and even with a personal history that might predispose them to be more violent than parents without such a history, do not abuse their children. Murray A. Straus and Christine Smith note in "Family Patterns and Child Abuse" (Straus and Gelles, Physical Violence in American Families) that a combination of several factors is more likely to result in child abuse than is a single factor alone. Also, the sum of the effects of individual factors taken together does not necessarily add up to what Straus and Smith call the "explosive combinations" of several factors interacting with one another. Nonetheless, even "explosive combinations" do not necessarily lead to child abuse. Families at Risk for Child Maltreatment
It is impossible to determine whether child maltreatment will occur, but generally a family may be at risk if the parent is young, has little education, has had several children born within a few years, and is highly dependent on social welfare. According to Judith S. Rycus and Ronald C. Hughes, in Field Guide to Child Welfare (1998), a family at high to moderate risk includes parents who do not understand basic child development and who may discipline inappropriately for the child's age, those who lack the necessary skills for caring for and managing a child, those who use physical punishment harshly and excessively, and those who do not appropriately supervise their children. They find that families under stresses such as divorce, death, illness, disability, unemployment, or incarceration are more likely to abuse or neglect children. Small stresses can have a cumulative effect and become explosive with a relatively minor event. For potentially abusive parents, high levels of ongoing stress, coupled with inadequate coping strategies and limited resources,...