The structure of violence as related to children directly correlates to their perceived socio-demographic risk. Several factors directly relate to the likelihood that a child will be subjected to violence at some point during their lives. Social, economic, demographic and physical factors all have a dramatic impact a child's development, either positive or negative and these factors also influence whether or not a child is more or less likely to be subjected to violence. Children living in high risk environments typically serviced by human service agencies, including poverty stricken areas and foster care living arrangements, are among the children that are at increased risk for violence and abuse. Children subjected to violence are much more likely to subsequently exhibit violent behavior later in life as well. Health care providers, educators, foster parents, families and community members all have an impact on a child's development. It is the responsibility of these individuals and human services professionals to identify patterns leading to abuse and to teach children and parents to cope with the stressors that increase the likelihood that violence will occur. This idea is explored at great length below.
The structure of violence is two-fold in this country; it is either directed against or committed by children. Though this paper focuses on violence that occurs against children, it is important to not that children are also committing more acts of violence themselves. Many youths face social obstacles that include "familial dysfunction, poverty, drug abuse, lack of adequate education and healthcare and violent behavior, all of which may contribute to their own reliance on criminal behavior" (Mears, 2004). To become "contributing members of society," these factors must be addressed by families, communities and policy makers in order to improve the likelihood for a more positive outcome for children (Mears, 2004).
Violence against children is on the rise in the United States. The structure of violence has remained unchanged for many years. According to statistics, violence against children often occurs in an environment where violence is already present. Studies show that child abuse occurs in the vast majority of family violence cases, as many as 60% (NCCEV, 2003). Family violence is more likely to occur when other social demographic factors are considered, including the economic and educational status of family members.
Other statistics related to child violence are staggering:
"More than 4 million adolescents have experienced serious physical assault"
"More than 9 million children and adolescents have witnessed a violent activity (s) during their lifetime" '1 in 12 High School students is threatened by a weapon or injured every year"
"In Miami Fl., more than 90% of high school students witnessed community violence, and more than 44% had been victims of violence themselves"
Source: 2003 National Center for Children Exposed to Violence, April 14, 2003
Child violence can be analyzed as it occurs from a social standpoint. Social service agencies have noted that violent activities are more likely to occur in homes that are broken or experiencing other hardships. The type of violence that is occurring against children in these situations is often severe. In 1996 for example, 185 children in the United States died of abuse or neglect, and 82% of the victims were under the age of 5 (NNCEV, 2003). A 41% increase in abuse among neglected children was realized between 1997-1998, and statistics also validated that child abuse was 15 times more likely to occur in families with other socio-demographic risk factors such as domestic violence (NNCEV, 2003).
Some additional and alarming statistics reveal that in 1997 the National Health Center for Health Statistics "listed homicide as the fourth leading cause of death for children ages 1 through 4, third for ages 5 through 14 and second for children aged 15 up" (NCHS, 1997). Violence seems to be occurring at a more rapid pace for very young children, those 5 and under. When social services is not available to intervene, this age group is the least likely to have resources to defend themselves, and thus often suffer the most. Children subjected to violence at this young age to exhibit more disturbed behaviors later on in school and in life. Many are incarcerated for committing crimes at a young age, and are released to society without ever having learned proper nurturing tools with which to survive.
Child abuse comes in many forms. Child abuse and violence against children includes forms of sexual abuse, domestic violence, psychological abuse and neglect. Domestic violence can occur in a household and affect a child psychologically even if the child is not physically abused by either parent. Neglect often occurs in situations where children are either homeless or living with an incompetent caregiver. Sexual abuse against children can and does occur in many different environments; it can be committed by a family member, a friend of the family, an educator or a health care provider. Sexual violence against children is often the most difficult to identify, but also leaves some of the most permanent and damaging psychological effects.
According to statistics and a large body of research conducted over several years, children's development and potential for success can be harmed by several economic, demographic, social and physical factors (Anderson Moore, et. al, 2000). Problem behaviors, failure to achieve in school, violence and reduced mental health are all factors affected by low socioeconomic status, overcrowding in families, low maternal education and welfare status among other factors (Anderson Moore, et. al, 2000 & Garmezy, 1993). The more negative influences children are subjected to, the greater the likelihood their subjectivity to violence and abuse (Garmezy, 1993). Social services, educators, community members and health care providers have an obligation to examine children at high risk for violence in an attempt to intervene. Children need to realize they have somewhere to turn when confronted with violence.
According to the National Survey of America's Families or NSAF, who studied the factors related to an increased social risk for children to become victims of violence, a definition of the following factors that put children at increased risk for violence was assessed: (1) children living with single parents, (2) children living in households with four or more children, (3) children living with caregivers that lacked a high school education, and (4) poverty (Anderson Moore et. al, 2000).
According to the NSAF, "children who experience high levels of socio-demographic risk are substantially more likely than other children to suffer negative outcomes, such as emotional and behavioral problems and difficulties in school" (Anderson Moore, et. al, 2000). Children who are more likely to exhibit behavioral problems are also more likely to fall victim to violent acts by other children or adults. Additional studies show that "25% of youth aged 12-17 exhibited behavioral problems and negative outcomes, compared to only 7% of the population that did not experience negative socio-demographic factors" (Anderson Moore, et. al 2000). The link between socio-demographics is clearly defined in this situation. Mitigating socio-demographic risk factors is the key for Human Services agencies wishing to intervene and reduce the likelihood of violence against children.
The negative consequences associated with exposure to violence permeate many areas of children's life, not just their behavior at home. High risk youths for example are more likely to risk low school engagement, by as much as 43% (Anderson Moore, et. al, 2000). Drop outs, teen pregnancy, criminal behavior and addictions are much more common in children who have been victims of violent behavior, and some studies even suggest that merely witnessing violent behavior may result in an increased risk for behavioral difficulties.
Social and Psychological Solutions
Child Welfare agencies are dedicated to ensuring children's safety and promoting permanency in their living situation to enhance their well being. A majority of children subjected to violence come from broken homes. Other children subjected to violence in the home are removed to foster care. Child welfare agencies often utilize "kinship" foster care services to enhance the likelihood that children will grow up socially and psychologically well rounded. Parent-child relationships are disrupted for a number of reasons that often result in violence against children. Relationships are disrupted for reasons including parental incarceration, homelessness and loss.
Few studies have been conducted that relate to how well communities, social service organizations, educators and health care providers can work together to protect children, ensure their safety and reduce the likelihood that violence will occur against them or by the children themselves. Some mechanisms have been proposed however in effort tom impact violence.
One method that has been suggested by human service agencies as a measure to ensure the safety of children is to ensure they live in kinship relationships. Kinship relationships are foster care relationships where the child is placed with a family member. More than 2.3 million children lived in kinship in 2002 alone, the majority of whom lived with their grandparents (Urban Institute, 2003). Kinship care involves relationships where children are living without a parent present.
The majority of kinship care, 76%, is private kinship, where the family has…