"Although it is extremely important when interviewing children about alleged abuse to determine whether the abuse was single or repeated… we have little information about how children judge the frequency of events… [and] overall children were very accurate at judging the frequency of a single event, but much less so for repeated events." (Sharman, et al., 2011).
Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) reports that in the year 2010 there were approximately 3.3 million referrals of "suspected abuse pertaining to six million children" in the United States (Samuels, 2011). The HHS data reflects that many children are being abused through neglect, through physical abuse (including sexual abuse), or through medical or educational neglect, and other forms of abuse. This paper delves into the problems associated with child abuse, the actions that professionals should take, the way to tell abuse has been done, and the overall impact on society when children are abused at a young age.
Why is this topic important to contemporary families?
This topic is important because reports of abuse to children are widespread throughout the world. Bringing attention to this problem is necessary. For example, a study in Malaysia, while not very surprising, points to the many negatives that result from a child being abused. Young victims of physical abuse, according to professor Samah of the Universiti Putra Malaysia, "…routinely experience emotional disturbance" including: "feelings of isolation, shame, fear, anxiety and even suicide ideation" (Samah, 2011, p. 230). Abused children are also known to show: a) low self-esteem; b) long-term developmental problems; c) depression; d) physical aggression; e) school failure; f) excessive uneasiness; g) passive behavior; h) poor communication skills; i) poor resiliency skills" (Samah, 230).
Secondarily, in the Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology the authors conducted a study using 113 adults that were receiving outpatient treatment for substance abuse issues. The 113 participants were given several questionnaires to determine if they had been sexually or otherwise physically abused -- or neglected -- as children. The point was: empirical data reflects the fact that "previous experience and intensity of negative life events" is linked with a "reduced capacity to copy with interrogative pressure" later in life (Gudjonsson, et al., 2011, p. 88).
What that means is parents that have had "adverse experiences in childhood" like neglect, physical or sexual abuse, "are more compliant in terms of their personality in adulthood" than those adults that were not abused as children, Gudjonsson explains (88). On page 89 Gudjonsson references extensive research by Maniglo (2009) that shows the sexual abuse of children "significantly increases the risk of a range of medical, [psychological, behavioural and sexual disorders." Hence, this research shows that the issue of child abuse is known to have serious ramifications later in life.
Thirdly, as regards families, what is the level of understanding that parents have vis-a-vis the abuse of children? And how do parents relate to child sexual abuse prevention education? Authors Hunt and Walsh approach that subject in the Australian Journal of Early Childhood. The authors reviewed 13 existing research studies (from the U.S., Canada, China, Australia and Hong Kong) on the topic and published the results. There is not room in this paper for all the findings, but results from China and the U.S. will be presented. When it comes to child sexual abuse (CSA) and child sexual abuse prevention education (CSAPE) study #1 (with 447 parents of primary children) from China reflects that: 7.9% of parents talked to their children about CSA prevention; 6.8% of parents had received CSAPE in school; 95% had discussed "stranger danger"; fewer than half of the parents had discussed "private parts, touching resisting, and telling a trusted adult" (Hunt, et al., 2011, p. 65). U.S. study (with parents with children in kindergarten to 3rd grade) reflects that: 79.9% of parents had discussed CSA with children; 93% taught their children to "tell a parent," 83.8% taught their children to "get away," 74.1% told children to "say no" and 64.5% urged their kids to "fight back" (Hunt, 67).
A fourth article is located in the peer-reviewed Child Abuse Review (Goddard, et al., 2010); this piece delves into the impact on children when there is "intimate partner violence" in the house. There is a "range of negative outcomes" for children in these environments including the immediate and profound psychological abuse the child endures as a witness to violence (Goddard, 7). Additional negative outcomes include: a) post-traumatic stress disorder; b) depression; c) anxiety; d) loneliness; e) lowered self-worth; f) "lowered verbal intellectual function" and g) lowered "reading ability" (Goddard, 7). Moreover, the relationship between the victim of the intimate partner violence and the child can be (and has been) harmed due to the abusive environment. Additionally, on page 8, Goddard references a study by McGuigan and Pratt (2001) that reported, compared with other non-violent families, those families in which intimate partner violence was ongoing in the first six months of a child's life "…were twice as likely to have had a confirmed report of psychological abuse… or neglect" when the child reaches the age of five (Goddard, 8).
How does this topic impact the child care field? Professionals in social work or otherwise those employed in the child care field should be thoroughly up-to-date with all the research relative to child abuse. Moreover, dermatologists and other clinicians should be "alert about the skin lesions" that can result from child abuse, according to an article in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology (Ermertcan, et al., 2010). The authors explain that up to 90% of children that are victims of physical abuse have "…bruises, lacerations, abrasions, burns, oral trauma, bite marks and traumatic alopecia" (Ermertcan, 319). Child care professionals should understand that there can be accident bruising (forehead, lower arms, hips and spine); but when bruises appear in protected areas (genitalia, buttocks, upper arms, trunk, ears, neck and posterior thighs), the authors assert, "…should raise suspicion of abuse" (319).
This topic certainly should affect those student teachers going through the teaching program in Australia, but a study in the journal Educational Review reflects that very little training is given to those would-be teachers when it comes to reporting suspected abuse of children in the classroom. The sources of knowledge available to student teachers in training, were "…incidental, sparse and sporadic" (Goldman, et al., 2011). Curriculum planners and educators need to be sure to provide "…compulsory pre-service training" for student teachers as regards identifying signs of abuse in their classroom (physical and psychological abuse).
Child care professionals should understand that when a child is interviewed by authorities (psychologists, police, attorneys or others) as to alleged sexual abuse that was visited on her (or him), the interview itself can become a "…psychological burden" (Cheung, et al., 2010, p. 11). Hence the importance of developing an interview protocol, Cheung asserts. A long list of questions zero in on various respondents' views of what the protocol should be in terms of getting substantive information from the abused child. It is suggested at the conclusion of this article that this aspect of the child care field has not received adequate attention in the literature.
Conclusion -- Summary
As this paper pointed out in the Introduction, the problem of child abuse involves millions of children. The task that is in the hands of parents, teachers, psychologists, counselors and law enforcement professions as regards identifying child abuse and correctly responding to it is vitally important. Not only are children being abused, but according to Dr. Cheryl Anne Boyce with the National Institutes of Health, about 1,500 children die each year from abuse or neglect. This is an unconscionable, intolerable and yet an ongoing problem which professionals must try to find solutions for. A good start would be educating parents as to proper behavior with their children.…