This study is focused on child neglect as a form of child abuse. Basic types of neglect are defined followed by some steps that can be taken to minimize the effects of this social evil.
Child neglect is the most common type of child abuse. It is the lack of adequate attention given to children in terms of basic provisions such as sanctuary, food, clothing, security, education and guidance. Of the 899,000 cases of child abuse reported to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), 62.8 percent (564,765 children) suffered from neglect which implies that out of every 1,000 children up to age 18 in the United States were found to be victims of maltreatment in 2005 (USDHHS, 2007).
Child neglect in most cases is reported by people in close proximity to the child such as teachers, nurses, physicians, and day care instructors. Neglect can be categorized into several types according to nature: physical, educational, emotional and medical.
Forms of Neglect
Physical neglect is the primary type of child abuse in most cases. Physical neglect occurs in the form of bodily harm done to the child. It could be unintentional but it could entail dangerous consequences for the child. Some examples of physical neglect include hitting children, beating children with objects such as belts, scaring them and other such acts of physical aggression. Other form of physical neglect are: leaving children unattended in the kitchen or in situations where adult guidance is needed, or drunk driving along with kids or expulsion from the homestead as a manner of punishment, abandoning children at times and failure to provide shelter nutrition and other material necessities. Physical neglect is traumatic for children as it leads to undernourishment, ailments and other bodily harms. It could stay with the child throughout his lifetime effecting his personality development. Physically abusive parents usually are not in control of their anger and tend to get highly irritated and therefore lash out in this manner. Mentally unstable parents too tend to be physically abusive. Another kind of physical abuse is when pregnant or lactating mothers indulge in substance abuse and the child develops deformities or suffers from ailments as the drugs or the alcohol passes into his/her system through the mother’s intake of the same.
A term that was coined in 1972, for a tacit form of child abuse is the shaken baby syndrome where the guardian/parent shakes the child out of frustration or as a manner of abuse. This affects the child in the form of head trauma which is very difficult to diagnose as it exhibit no exterior injuries. Violent shaking injures neck and brain tissues of infants and young children relatively more as their bodies are not fully developed and their brain tissue is exceptionally fragile. Their small size further adds to their risk of injury. The injuries sustained by the children through such acts include swelling of the brain, hemorrhaging, retardation, blindness, loss of hearing and speech and learning difficulties. Another form of physical abuse which is not as common as others is Munchausen’s syndrome, in which a parent intentionally makes the child ill and takes him/ her to the hospital in order to gain sympathy and garner attention.
Educational neglect occurs in the form of negligence to a child’s academics. It could be in the form of not enlisting children in the school. This is a most common form of abuse in developing countries where the children are deliberately not enrolled in an educational institute and are instead forced into child labor. Other forms of educational neglect could be in the form of unheeded truancy of the child from school and inattention to a child’s inability to cope with streamline schooling.
Emotional inattention occurs with the parents or the guardians paying no heed to children’s sentiments. It could occur in the form of abusing the spouse in front of the children, indifference to a child’s use of drugs and denial of affection. It could also include verbal abuse and discouragement, terrorizing the child with extreme punishment or playing on childhood fears so that it leads to under confidence and self esteem issues. If a parent refuses to help a child when he depicts disruptive behavior is also a form of emotional neglect.
Emotional abuse could also come from peers at school or from teachers who might indulge in name-calling, blaming the child for things beyond his/control or ignoring the child completely not acknowledging any of his/her efforts at improvement. The child as a result may not want to attend school and if he faces such neglect from his parents also then it could lead to educational neglect.
Medical neglect is inefficiency in obtaining healthcare even though it is affordable. This puts the child at a risk of physical harm. This could include deliberately not going to a physician even though the child indicates that he/she is not well, not taking the child to a hospital in case of emergency or not taking care of his/her hygiene. Hence some of the symptoms of neglect include poor weight of the child, unhealthy appearance, disregard for hygiene and bruises and cuts on the body.
According to a study, (USDHHS, 2007).children of both the sexes have an equal probability of suffering from abuse. In 2005, 47.3 percent of child victims suffering from abuse were male, and 50.7 percent were female. Victimization rates were highest among the youngest population of children, birth to 3 years
Children are more susceptible to neglect when parents are alcohol or drug abusers in which case the parent’s condition does not allow them to do the needful for the children, A report published by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University estimates that in 70% of the cases of child maltreatment, parents are involved in drug abuse.
Victimized children of such parents are likely to be underachievers, physically unfit and mentally disturbed through a large part of their childhood and eventually their lives. One the major causes of children’s removal from the care of their biological parents is the fact that parents are substance abusers and are therefore engaging in maltreatment of children.
Neglect and Violence
According to the NCANDS websiteAround ten percent of American children have a disability or a chronic illness. And the probability that they might be victims of abuse and neglect is twice as high as that in normal children. (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2006).
USDHHS (2007) Perpetrators of child abuse or neglect are most often the child’s own parents. According to NCANDS, in 2005, 79.4 percent of perpetrators were parents and 6.8 percent were other relatives. The largest remaining categories of perpetrators were the unmarried partner of a child’s parent (3.8 percent) and other perpetrators (4.1 percent). In 3.6 percent of child maltreatment cases the perpetrators were missing or unknown. In under 1 percent of child maltreatment cases the perpetrator was a foster parent, residential facility staff, the child’s daycare provider, a legal guardian, friends or neighbors, or other professionals.
It has been reported in many cases that children who live in households where spouses are abused, are more prone to be abused that in households with no cases of domestic violence. According to an article based on physical violence in American families, “just over 16%, or one in six, American couples experienced an incident involving physical assault during 1985” (Straus & Gelles, 1992).
Although substance abuse might not be necessarily involved a large percentage of these incidences occur as a result of alcoholism or drug addiction. Abuse of female spouse in the household is a fairly good indicator of victimization of children. Many instances include abuse of a woman alongside that of the child.
According to Jaffe, Wolfe & Wilson, Children of Battered Women, (1990)
Children who have witnessed abuse often suffer low self-esteem, depression, stress disorders, poor impulse control and feelings of powerlessness. They are at high risk for alcohol and drug use, sexual acting out, running away, isolation, fear, and suicide (p. 28-29)
There are many correlations and consequences linking child and woman abuse. If the mother of the children is abused she may become a drug user or may revert to alcohol herself which will lead to further neglect of the children by both guardians. Anther reason is that abused women are mentally disturbed and hence will not be able to provide for the children. Also, witnessing abuse often has a harmful and long lasting impact on children’s minds. While they may become victimized alongside a woman, children are more susceptible to mental instability and disturbance as a result of abuse. Children who are terrorized by such state of affairs suffer from under-confidence, low self esteem, and survivor guilt which come from a sense of having survived a tragedy while the mother was battered. A feeling of helplessness and doom is cast over the small child who cannot fathom the reasons behind such cruel behavior other than that it might be his fault.
The first and foremost means of prevention is raising awareness through education. Children can be educated from the beginning of school about child abuse and the forms it takes. The main reason behind child abuse and its harmful impact on children is their lack of understanding with regards to their environment. A child does not understand what is happening and in most cases tends to blame himself for whatever punishment and victimization happens to him and his mother however the case may be. Therefore teachers should educate children in these matters and ask them to report any untoward behavior to them.
Educating parents about the harm that they do their children by abusing or neglecting them is also in good measure. Many times parents do not know the long lasting impact their actions have on a child’s life. Therefore educating them about better parenting and about better care for their children is a must. Take for example the shaken baby syndrome. Parents in many cases do not realize that when they use their energy to shake a crying child out of frustration or even while playing with them could have dangerous consequences for the future. Thus by creating awareness these issues might be avoided.
Another measure that can be further improved and has been put into place by the authorities is that of the reporters of neglect. Most often they are physicians, doctors, teachers, and babysitters etc who alert authorities about child neglect. They can be kept in the loop with regards to the child’s welfare.
Community based services should be made more effective. Studies have proved that abused women and children generally turn to relatives and close friends for help. They do not go to government help institutions immediately it is only after the close associate counsels them do so do they go for institutional, police, or protection agency help. Families that encounter violence are usually isolated from help agencies sometimes abusers make sure that the victims are unable to reach any organization for help, either through threats of further violence or through threats of harm to other family members.
Community members on the other hand are much more aware of the families that need help and which services they need to tackle the issue. Community members know the cultural values that encourage violence and they can help combat it in those terms. Community members include women men and youth in neighborhood or church communities who can help put a stop to the family violence issue. They are the ones who can report the matter to the authority and they can support the traumatized families as well. In fact much better than the agencies can. Most community residents and leaders have the readiness to develop the skills needed to conduct family violence prevention and intervention.
Physical chastisement as a form of punishment for unwanted behavior is a common disciplinary method and even though the child refrains from behaving in the unintended manner, physically inflicting pain upon the child communicates that the use of brute force in face of undesired antagonism is the response and eventually it could lead to the child depicting the same behavior in situations in his adult life. Hence corporal punishment might be a precursor to violence later in life for the abused child.
Child abuse leads to low self esteem wherein the child needs constant assurance that he/she is doing the right and socially acceptable thing. Depression and anxiety is a by-product of abuse where the child feels alienated and hopeless. A feeling of gloom always surrounds the child as he/she feels that it her/his own person that is accountable for negative outcomes. Personality disorders are common among abused children; they may be extremists indulging in extremely reckless activities or dare-devils caring little for their health. They may also depict aggressive behavior reflective of the aggression faced at home. While their anger might be uncontrollable they might be very possessive and need a lot of emotional involvement from their partners and friends which may make forming and maintaining relationships very difficult. They might also suffer from nightmares associated with their past lives.
While these are the emotional problems that abused children face, behavioral effects are the symptoms that may indicate what lies beneath the exterior. Behavioral effects include problems at school with regards to understanding the subject taught of disregard for rules and regulations and disregard for deadlines. Shoddy school work is one indicator that teachers can immediately investigate. Other problems could include problems in distinguishing ethical and unethical behavior. Children might grow up to become prostitutes or criminals. In their need for emotional balance and support they might become prematurely involved in sexual relations leading to early pregnancies. Alcohol and drugs might be used to survive through the trauma and could lead to substance abuse or addiction. Suicidal attempts could also result from abuse as in their state of gloom children might want to end their lives as they feel that there is no point in living. Also, later on in life, abused children might abuse their own spouses or off-springs. Traumatized children often display disruptive behavior and are antisocial, indulging in dangerous activities that are destructive for themselves as well as for the society.
The studies and the articles considered in the survey indicate a rising awareness of child abuse and its various forms. Childhood is a very sensitive stage where lessons once taught could affect them for a lifetime. By maltreating children, abusive parents are plaguing generations to come with traumatic experiences that cannot be forgotten or forgiven. While the kinds of abuse have been classified into physical, emotional, educational and medical, many instances indicate that children are subjected to multiple abuses on a daily basis. It wreaks havoc for a child of he is unable to get the proper nurturing that is required for him.
Thus it is incumbent on every individual to voice their concerns if they feel that someone is abusing the child by neglecting his/her needs. Community has a strong role to play in this as community members often know the history of the family and are well aware of the culture and the values of a particular household. Therefore they are in a better position relative to authorities to evaluate whether domestic abuse is taking place. More often than not victims go to the authorities last to get help. Abused children usually seek the help of their friends or of relatives whom they feel they can trust. Such an adult entrusted with the child’s trauma has to make sure that the child is helped. Abused children can be helped either by counseling the parents and if conditions persist, children can be removed from the parent’s care completely. Although many people do not want to get involved in family matters incase of abuse everyone is under an obligation to help. Other means of aiding the child include providing emotional support and counseling for the child, taking him/her to proper physicians and in most cases talking to the authorities about the situation.
Parents might think that they are disciplining the child or they are making him/her ready for the world, but this in no way authorizes adults to abuse children and to take them as a punching bag to filter out frustrations.
By reporting such cases one can make a huge difference in the life of an abused child wherein the long-term harm inflicted upon the child can be alleviated and if the child gets timely help and support the child can regain his carefree childhood which will help him develop into a balanced personality.
Jaffe, Wolfe & Wilson, Children of Battered Women, 1990, pp. 28-29.
Child Welfare Information Gateway (2006). Preventing abuse of children with disabilities. Web.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). (2005). Family matters: Substance abuse and the American family. New York: CASA.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families. (2007). Child maltreatment 2005. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
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