The issues of child abuse in the larger society are often unnoticed until it is too late. Unfortunately, public perceptions of the precursors to abuse are limited, and the unfortunate reality of 'out of sight, out of mind' is prevalent in a society which moves as quickly as ours, and in which individuals are completely engaged in their own lives, expressing little ability to watch out for, or concern for the well being of others. The following studies look into the well-being of children, the impact of foster care on the well being of children, and the community's overall involvement in the problem of child abuse.
In order to construct a viable policy regarding what to do about the problem of child abuse, researchers must first accurately perceive the problems which exist in the larger society, and make sure that they have accurately measured the important factors. Since must of effectively making a positive change in lives affected by child abuse is a matter of being aware of the abuse, the research studies included in this evaluation also addresses public perception of the issue.
Studies and Conclusions:
Study #1: Dove et al., 2001
In a study by Dove et al. (2001) researchers assessed an urban, Midwestern population's perceptions of:
what constitutes child abuse who is most likely to be a child abuser,
Perceived long-term effects of child abuse.
This study was valuable because there is a vacuum of information regarding public perceptions of child abuse and neglect. According to Dove et al., (2001) most studies that have examined perceptions of child abuse have focused on professional groups or selected samples such as college students or mothers. One of the few public opinion and knowledge studies dealt with child sexual abuse as perceived in a rural community in the Northwest. (Calvert and Munsie-benson, 1999) Gaps in knowledge were found in a variety of segments of the community, including men, unmarried respondents, those without children, younger age groups, and those with low incomes or low education. Knowing the public's perceptions of child abuse and neglect is important because perceptions of child abuse are likely to affect the reporting to authorities of child abuse, the provision of clinical services for such abuse, possibly the prosecution of child abuse perpetrators, and support for schools who want to implement child abuse prevention programs.
For this quantitative study, a 14-item, multi-component series of questions were developed to assess the public's perceptions of child abuse, if the person being surveyed was aware of child abuse, and six demographic questions (sex, age, and race, number of children, education, and income). After verifying the instrument with a local panel of adult, and a professional review panel, the questionnaire was used to survey 745 adults from a list composed by the local telephone company. The result of this study suggests that population-based educational intervention regarding child abuse is needed with an emphasis in the area of parent training classes.
Study #2: Cooper and Sutton, 1999
In a qualitative study by Cooper and Sutton, the effects of child abuse on the play habits of children were reviewed by reviewing literature in the subject field. The paper critically examined the literature and described the reported effects of child abuse and neglect on preschool children's play. This analysis highlighted the need for early childhood professionals to be better informed about the effects of child abuse on young children. The study evaluated the childhood experience of abuse on: overall playfulness, the child's tendencies in pretend play, their social play, and behavioral disturbances which occurred in the abused child.
The study found that the preschool child's play development is likely to be adversely affected by the experience of child abuse. Reported effects include delayed play skills, decreased imaginative play, aggressive social play, social withdrawal, reduced playfulness, and increased emotional or behavioral disturbance manifested in play. (Cooper and Sutton 1999) The reports reviewed as part of their study of abused children's play deficits come from anecdotal case studies of children in one-to-one therapy settings. How abused children play in early childhood settings or in their home environments has not as of yet been a major focus of research, and these researchers recognized that there exists an incomplete understanding of how young children are affected and cope with the experience of abuse.
Study #3: Mccullough and Scherman, 1998
In a quantitative study by Mccullough and Scherman, the relationship between family-of-origin interaction with teen age mothers and the family environment in relation to the potential for young mothers to abuse their children was examined. Females aged 14 to 21 from three teen parenting programs completed standardized questionnaires on teen parenting and home family environment, and child abuse. Across the study, low scores on primary family cohesion were found to correlate with high scores on child abuse potential. This suggests that providing the teenager with an accepting and supportive atmosphere may assist her in building a positive identity as a mother. The goal of the study was to find and interpret increased understanding of how family-of-origin issues contribute to young mothers' potential to abuse their children can also aid school and community professionals in providing better services for this population.
Adolescent pregnancy and child abuse are two major problems in American society. A national incidence study of child abuse and neglect (National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1988) has estimated that nearly one million children experienced demonstrable harm as a result of maltreatment in 1986. According to the same study, if children at risk for, or threatened with, harm were included in this estimate, it would rise to almost 1.5 million children nationwide. When adolescents become parents, they are faced with the challenge of providing for their own children while having not completed the transition into adulthood themselves. The outcomes, and behavioral patterns of early parenthood are long lasting, affecting both adults and children, and can have a depilatory effect on this segment of the population which can be felt and measured over their entire lifetime. This study quoted research that adolescent parents are less likely to complete high school, attend college, find stable employment, marry, or be self-supporting than are those who have children later (Clewell, Brooks-Gunn, & Benasich, 1989). As a result, their children are more at risk for a variety of problems, including developmental delay, and the tendency to repeat the behaviors.
The results of this study found that the individuals who are most directly involved with these young mothers in school and teen parenting programs should be aware of the impact this lack of emotional connectedness to family can have on the potential to abuse. Professionals and volunteers dealing with adolescent mothers and their children therefore are in a high profile position to positively affect the future of the mother and child. In addition, high-risk families have consistently been found to be more amenable to change and more likely to experience positive outcomes than are families that have already been involved in maltreatment (Daro, 1988). Therefore, the teen parenting programs provided the young mothers with a heightened awareness of their children's development can be a source of significant change.
Study #4: Lamb and Malkin, 1994
In a quantitative study, Lamb and Malkin reviews and evaluated the reports of child abuse from 30 states and territories in order to test a hypothesis of socio-biological factors which affect child abuse. Cueing their hypotheses from animal biological research which recognized that biological ties are stronger than species ties, the researchers wanted to test for the same tendencies in human population. The researchers noted that educationally-based treatment methods had been only limited in their success. Therefore the researchers wanted to test for additional factors which could be used as expected determinants for instances of child abuse.
The researchers expanded this hypothesis to include the idea that biological parents invest larger amounts of material and non-material resources in their child than non-biological parents, therefore their research included age-based evaluation. Their hypothesis was that greater degrees of abuse will occur before the parent invests large amounts of person care and resources rather than after, or earlier in life than later.
Their research returned surprising results as the researchers used saturated and unsaturated models, and log-linear analyses to check their data. They found that the date supported that abuse is more likely to occur before large amounts of person investment, i.e., at younger ages, but they did not find that biological parents were less likely to perpetrate abuse than non-biological parents. Their research suggests the biological influence over abuse is lower than expected. Rather the presence of abuse is a matter of learned skills, and personal investment than biological ties.
Study #5: Yancey, 1998
According to a quantitative study by Yancey (1998) the problems of adolescents in foster care typically do not arise from genetic defects or organic pathology; rather, they are situationally and behaviorally rooted. Foster children's maladaptive outcomes, which are summarized in a great amount of the literature on identity formation in individuals from socially…