Child Abuse Detection, Reporting and Treatment > Chapter 2 - Types of Child Abuse

Chapter 2: Types of Child Abuse

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, these signs by the child, the parent(s) and the two combined may indicate the presence of child abuse or neglect.

The Child:

  • Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance.
  • Has not received help for physical or medical problems that were brought to the parents' attention.
  • Has learning problems or difficulty concentrating that cannot be explained by physical or psychological causes.
  • Is always watchful, as if preparing for something bad to happen.
  • Lacks adult supervision.
  • Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn.
  • Comes to school or other activities early, stays late, and does not want to go home.
[QN.No.1.Two examples that may indicate a child is being abused or neglected are:]

The Parent:

  • Shows little concern for the child.
  • Denies the existence of, or blames the child for, the child's problems in school or at home.
  • Asks teachers or other caretakers to use harsh physical discipline if the child misbehaves.
  • Sees the child as entirely bad, worthless or burdensome.
  • Demands a level of physical or academic performance the child cannot achieve.
  • Looks primarily to the child for care, attention, and satisfaction of emotional needs.
[QN.No.2.An example of a possibly abusive parent is:]

The Child And Parent:

  • Rarely touch or look at each other.
  • Consider their relationship as entirely negative.
  • State that they do not like each other.
Whenever child abuse is discussed, people who are not working as medical or mental health professionals often assume that the term "child abuse" consists only of physical abuse. The public is very much aware of pedophilia and how pedophiles prey upon young children, but some fail to consider that sexual abuse most often occurs within the child's own home by a family member. A child has a much greater chance of being sexually abused by his/her uncle or grandfather than by a lurking pedophile.

Physical child abuse can cause controversy among parents, medical and mental health personnel, state legislatures and law enforcement. For example, what level of punishment is considered physical abuse? How hard can a child be spanked until it is considered abusive. Many parents would respond with, "I was spanked as a child and don't consider myself to have been abused. I didn't grow up to be a serial killer just because I was spanked." Medical and mental health professionals often make the point that spanking a child teaches that child that we solve our problems by hitting someone who makes us angry and frustrated. Legislators have attempted to legislate against spanking, but the backlash from parents defeated such laws from being enacted.

Emotional abuse is the least-known form of child abuse among non-professionals. Words cannot only wound, they can change the entire course of a child's life, causing serious personal and interpersonal difficulties.

Case Vignette

"All my life my father told me I was stupid, worthless and would never amount to anything. I was expected to make straight A's, be an athletic star, and never fail to obey his ridiculously rigid rules that demanded absolute perfection. I was just a kid, I made mistakes. Then I got thrown against a wall, beat with a belt until I bled, or slapped, kicked and punched repeatedly. My father never said one kind word to me, not once. Nothing I did was good enough and I was constantly told how disappointing I was to him and how much he wished I was never even born. All this happened every single day of my life until I left home when I was seventeen. Dad continued to beat me and verbally abuse me even after I was bigger and stronger than he was. And I continued to let him because I believed what he said about me. I got what I deserved. Now I'm almost thirty, and I've never been married or had a serious girlfriend. Why would anyone want me? I don't want to have children because I'm really scared that I would do to them what my father did to me and my brothers. I have no clue how to be a husband or a parent. So I just keep to myself."
Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me

Oh, but words do hurt, and very deeply, too. This may work when a child is distressed by a classmate who calls him/her names. In reality, words that constitute continual emotional abuse don't merely hurt a child; they cause a deep pathology in adulthood that greatly interferes with not only relationships, but also with self-esteem, empathy for others, and feelings such as depression and anxiety. Upon evaluation by medical and mental health professionals, these affective disorders often have their genesis in being emotionally abused by either a verbally violent parent or a parent who is very emotionally cold to the child, failing to praise the child's successes and showing no outward signs of affection and bonding (Kohut, 2000).

The neglected child is often exactly that: neglected not only by parents or caretakers, but by others as well who see the signs of neglect and choose not to intervene. The neighbor that feeds a hungry child who frequently appears at the door asking for food. The teacher who sees that a child wears no coat to school in winter weather. The nurse who notices that a child is seriously underweight or, on the contrary, morbidly obese and shows symptoms of the onset of juvenile diabetes. The dentist that finds an excessive number of cavities for a child and other signs that the child's dental hygiene is seriously lacking.

Many excuses and rationalizations are extended towards the parents of a neglected child; they're very poor and can't afford warm clothing or ample food for the child. Both parents work, so the child goes to a neighbor for food. The parents' jobs don't have dental insurance plans. Bystanders should be aware of the many charities that offer clothing, food and health care for children from impoverished homes, but most often do not intervene in the business of a family not their own. Toothbrushes are hardly expensive items.

The 1998 Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 2006 standardized the definitions of child abuse and neglect:
"The term "child abuse and neglect" means, as a minimum, any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm."

Another definition used in this course is the definition from Child Protective Services (CPS):
"These are the agencies charged with responding to reports of child abuse and neglect. CPS agencies generally investigate these reports and determine that either (a) abuse or neglect did occur and the report is substantiated, (b) there was no basis for the report and it is 'ruled out,' or (c) there is not enough information to determine if abuse or neglect occurred or did not occur, and the report is found to be unsubstantiated."

This course will examine the signs of all forms of child maltreatment:

* Physical abuse
* Sexual abuse
* Emotional abuse
* Neglect

Also discussed will be special topics that fall somewhere on the spectrum of child abuse and/or neglect, but it may be uncertain just where on the spectrum they belong. Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy, for example, is a mental health disorder that focuses on the pathology of the mother; where does the harm done to the child fit in? Children who are born addicted to crack cocaine or suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome; this issue also seems to focus on the mother's pathology and illegal child maltreatment is very rarely discussed. Shaken baby syndrome is clearly caused by physical abuse. The issue at stake here is whether the child should ever be returned to the parent(s) even if the abuser has complied with every form of rehabilitation currently available. Can the abuser ever be trusted with the child?

One person – a teacher, doctor, neighbor, nurse, dentist, or social worker – can make a profound difference in an abused and/or neglected child's life. Being mindful of what's going on around us and being willing to speak the truth to those who need to know helps end the pain of being a maltreated child. If it takes a village to raise a child, it only takes one person to save a child.
Child Abuse Detection, Reporting and Treatment > Chapter 2 - Types of Child Abuse
Page Last Modified On: September 6, 2014, 10:00 PM