Child Abuse and Neglect: Causes and Definitions
Sadly, children have been abused and mistreated throughout history and child abuse unfortunately still exists, with figures showing 198,355 reports of suspected cases of child abuse and neglect made to authorities in 2002-2003 alone (Healey, 2006). As we understand more about human development we have learnt that what happens in our childhood has an enormous impact on our adult lives. The reality of the situation is that most Australians and other communities worldwide are not properly recognising the extent of the child abuse and neglect problem. Definitions are inconsistent and exposure to information is limited providing a window of opportunity for a step toward a more effective means of decreasing the rates of child abuse and neglect. Broadly speaking, child abuse is about an adult harming a child. Child abuse can occur through someone doing something hurtful or by someone not doing something to provide for, or to protect a child. The literature on child maltreatment uses a variety of definitions of varying generality. Some authors discuss “maltreatment” which specifically encompasses physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, and sometimes also sexual abuse. Other authors specify the nature of the maltreatment (i.e. physical abuse, neglect, etc), while still others may detail the specific inclusion criteria, such as the presence of long-bone fractures. Further, many published studies simply utilise research samples comprised of cases which have come to the attention of local authorities. These cases are defined by the legislative definition of maltreatment, but, the manner in which legislative definition is operationalised is subject to considerable bias. Consequently cases of maltreatment defined by the legislative definition may by quite variable in regard to the nature and severity of abuse and neglect. The definition of child abuse is difficult to determine even within a particular country. Given the many cultural and societal influences affecting the way in which a country defines abuse, defining abuse globally is obviously a formidable task, although definitions of abuse and neglect to contain commonalities across countries. Child maltreatment includes both the abuse and neglect of a child, two different types of problems with slightly different causes, perpetrators, and outcomes. Furthermore, abuse occurs in a number of different forms including physical abuse, emotional abuse (also known as psychological maltreatment), neglect, and sexual abuse. Physical abuse is often described as a situation in which a child sustains injury due to the wilful acts of an adult. This type of abuse can be defined very loosely, as the ill-treatment of children. However, the definition may be as specific as stating that the injuries are inflicted by particular acts such as biting, hitting, kicking, or slapping; and/or occur through the use of objects such as belts, sticks, rods, or bats. These more specific definition are usually the result of laws created to protect children. For instance in Israel in 1989 an amendment was passed known as the Law for the Prevention of Abuse of Minors and the Helpless. Specific types of abuse were defined within this amendment, creating a more definitive classification of each type of abuse in Israel (2001). In many countries, the definition of physical abuse involves the presence of a physical mark created by intentional physical contact by an adult. One advantage of clear definitions is that they result in a more accurate reporting of physical abuse to the authorities (Kasim, 2001). Child neglect, is seen by most experts, as an act of omission which some divide into three categories; physical neglect, educational neglect, and emotional neglect (DePanfilis & Salus, 1992). Other literature such as that of Zuravin and Taylor (1987; as cited in Pecora, Whittaker, Maluccio,...
References: Archard, D. (2004). Children, rights and childhood (2nd Edition). New York: Routledge Taylor and Francis. Chapter 14. The problem of child abuse.
DePanfilis, D., & Salus, M. (1992) A Coordinated Response to Child Abuse and Neglect: A Basic Manual. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Faller, K. C. (1988). Child Sexual Abuse: An Interdisciplinary Manual for Diagnosis, Case Management and Treatment. London: Columbia University Press.
Fraser, B. G. (1981). Sexual child abuse: The legislation and the law in the United States. In P. B. Mrazekk and C. H. Kempe (eds), Sexually Abused Children and Their Families. New York: Pergamon.
Gillham, B. (1991). The Facts About Child Sexual Abuse. London: Biddles Limited.
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