Child Abuse

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What is child abuse?

Child abuse refers to acts of a caretaker that bring harm to a child or have the potential to bring harm to a child.

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Single-Parent Households Versus Two-Parent Households

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Child maltreatment has been a hot-button item for several years. The very notion of children getting treated in such a way that is unfair to them in any way is a difficult pill to swallow. However, we cannot turn a blind eye to the circumstances that many of today’s youth have to endure on a regular basis. Single parent households are typically the worst perceived households due to the high stress of raising a child solo and the lack of income in comparison to a dual parent household. Children of blended homes in which a stepparent is present are also at risk. In fact, statistics have shown that these children are 40 times more likely to be abused than those who live with both biological parents. Finally, we come to traditional two parent households. These kinds of households are less controversial due to many studies saying that the odds of child abuse are less likely. However, 92 percent of the perpetrators of child neglect were the biological parents of the child, some of whom cohabitated. Many people feel like family structure, whether the family is a single parent or two parent family, influences the risk of child maltreatment. To answer this, family dynamic does in some way play a role in child maltreatment. However, although it is known for being an infamous indicator of child maltreatment, family structure cannot be used as an adequate variable to decipher causation with child maltreatment due to the fact that abuse occurs in varying degrees within each of these family circumstances.

The Effects of Socioeconomic Status on Children’s Vulnerability to Maltreatment

Even though child abuse was at times considered socially acceptable, it is now recognized as a social problem.  Child abuse is more common in low income families, leaving many people wondering why poverty is linked to child abuse.  Research suggests that low socioeconomic status contributes to an increased risk for abuse because it is linked to the family structure, parents’ views on punishment, and lack of access to resources.  Family income affects the structure of the family.  Many low income families are headed by a female single parent; stress from balancing work and home life as a single parent, along with mothers being more likely to spend greater amounts of time with their children, puts single mothers at a greater risk to be abusers.  Another risk factor for abuse is corporal punishment.  Parents’ attitudes towards discipline, as well as their actual disciplining behavior, influence the risk for child maltreatment.  Compared to wealthier parents, low income parents are more likely to condone and use corporal punishment.  They also tend to have lower levels of education, resulting in less knowledge on proper discipline methods.  Another risk factor for child abuse is a lack of resources.  Low income families lack both social and economic resources.  They usually do not have a network of support from friends and family, and it is difficult for them to access necessities for their children’s well-being.  Low income parents have added stress because they cannot receive the help they need to properly care for their children.  Also, it is easier for professionals to spot abuse that occurs in these families; the signs are more visible because parents do not have the resources to cover up the abuse.  High income families have more access to resources that decrease the risk for child abuse and decrease the risk of child abuse cases being exposed within the family.  It is not one single cause that can be stated to explain its prevalence, rather, multiple factors that contribute to a child’s risk of being exposed to child abuse.

There is a direct link between low socioeconomic status and physical child abuse.  There is also a link between families of low socioeconomic status and childrearing skills and techniques.  One reason behind this is because the family can lack the funds to enroll in a parenting skills class.  Lacking the funds to enroll in a parenting class, the parents of low socioeconomic status have to rely on how their parents raised them.  Relying on generations of childrearing practices is how physical child abuse is transferred from generation to generation according to Social Learning theory.

Another cause of stress in the family unit that can cause physical child abuse is having a parent that is unemployed.  Families that have a parent that is unemployed, causes a strain on funds available to the family unit.  If the family already has limited resources then having a provider being unemployed will only add more stress to the situation.

Lack of a higher education is also a leading factor in physical child abuse.  Parents that lack a higher education usually are forced to have low-level jobs also known as blue-collar jobs.  Low-level jobs usually do not pay as well as the high-level jobs or white collar jobs.  There is a direct link between low levels of education and low socioeconomic status.

How to stop the recurrence of child physical abuse among violent families?

Most cases of physical abuse are not a single occurrence. When abuse occurs, it is often wondered what can be done to stop parents from abusing again. There are many factors that help lower the rate of child physical abuse in abusive families.

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After abuse has taken place, having parents placed in proper treatment programs is crucial. Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) is an approach most often used in various treatment programs for physically abusive parents. The idea behind PCIT is parents who physically abuse their children do not know how to give correct parental responses to their child’s actions. This means that physically abusive parents resort to violence instead of various other punishments because they are not aware of or don’t think other methods of discipline will be effective. The main focus of PCIT is to improve the relationship between parents and their child. In PCIT parents are often observed through a one-way mirror by a therapist while they interact with their child. Then, parents are coached by the therapist on how to properly interact with their child. Through this approach, parents are taught when and how to discipline their children. Parents are taught disciplinary methods, such as time-out, and to ignore the child when it is appropriate. Parents are also taught how to positively interact with their child. For instance, parents are taught when and how to give praise to their child and how to reward them for positive behavior. When parents are taught how to discipline, praise, and interact with their child, they are less likely to resort to violence because they have developed a positive relationship with their child.

Another factor that influences rates of continued child physical abuse in families is ease of access. Programs that are conducted within the home of the abusive parent are more effective than those programs not conducted in the home. In-home programs allow parents to interact with their child in their own environment which makes it more likely that parents will continue to use the skills they learned after the program ends. Since abuse occurs more often in low income families, programs that are free of charge are also more likely to be effective.

Connecting physically abusive parents to resources that could lessen the stress that causes physical abuse is important when trying to reduce rates of physical abuse. It is important to link abusive families to resources such as job training, counseling, and child care. Physically abusive parents who are in treatment must receive some type of encouragement and emotional support. Provision of emotional support for abusive parents gives them the opportunity to release pent up emotions instead of taking those emotions out in acts of violence.

REFERENCES

Barnett, O.,  Miller-Perrin, C., & Perrin, R. (2011). Family Violence across the Lifespan: Third Edition. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, Inc.

Daly, M., & Wilson, M. (1985). Child abuse and other risks of not living with both parents. Ethology and Sociobiology, Vol 6 (4), 197-210. doi: 10.1016/0162-3095(85)90012-3.

Gershater-Molko M. R., Lutzker R. J., & Wesh D. (2002). Using Recidivism Data to Evaluate Project Safecare: Teaching Bonding, Safety, and Health Care Skills to Parents. Child Maltreatment, 7(3), 277-285

Hakman, M., Chaffin, M., Funderburk, B., & Silovsky F. J. (2009). Change Trajectories for Parent-Child Interaction Sequences During Parent-Child Interaction Therapy for Child Physical Abuse. Child Abuse and Neglect, 33(7). 461-470

Harder, Jeanette. (2005). Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect: An Evaluation of a Home Visitation Parent Aide Program Using Recidivism Data. Research on Social Work Practice, 15(4), 246-256. doi: 10.1177/1049731505275062

Iannelli, Vincent. (2010). Child abuse statistics. Retrieved from http://pediatrics.about.com/od/childabuse/a/05_abuse_stats.htm

Jouriles, E., McDonald, R., Rosenfield, D., Spiller, L., Stephens, N., Corbitt-Shindler, D., & Ehrensaft, M. (2010). Improving Parenting in Families Referred for Child Maltreatment: A Randomized Controlled Trial Examining Effects of Project Support. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(3), 328-338. doi: 10.1037/a0019281

Juby, C. (2009).  Parental attitude:  A mediating role in disciplinary methods used by parents.  Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 26(6), 519-531. doi: 10.1007/s10560-009   0183-z.

Nobes, G., & Smith, M., (2002). Family structure and the physical punishment of children. Journal of Family Issues, Vol 23(3), 349-373. doi: 10.1177/0192513X02023003002

Paxson, C. & Waldfogel, J. (1999).  Parental resources and child abuse and neglect. American Economic Association, 89(2), 239-244.  Retrieved from:  http://www.jstor.org/stable/117113.

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