The emotional, psychological and physical maltreatment of children is referred to as child abuse. It is defined as the ill-treatment and exploitation of children by acts such as emotive abuse, psychosomatic abuse, bodily abuse, and sexual abuse. Most of the instances of child abuse happen while the child is at home and it is also prevalent in lesser frequency in schools, communities, and institutions that the child may engage with. Parents and guardians have been found to indulge in the abuse of children because of certain situational factors that force them to indulge in such practices. Such parents do not have adequate knowledge of parenting and may have been abused as children themselves. They have a lot of expectations from their children and do not understand the different stages of a child’s growth nor do they understand their needs. They may suffer from unemployment or financial problems which lead to stress and frustration that becomes the cause of child abuse. There are some teenage parents who are immature and insecure and are not aware of how to deal with the child. Sometimes single parents also behave in this pattern because they cannot handle the child alone. Parents who abuse children normally have low self-esteem and self-image and look at physical punishment as a method to bring discipline to the child.
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The psychological element is important in finding solutions to the problem of child abuse. In this regard, a strong definition of psychological maltreatment has been given in the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) Guidelines for Psychosocial Evaluation of Suspected Psychological Maltreatment of Children and Adolescents (1995). According to the studies done by APSAC (1995), “Psychological maltreatment means a repeated pattern of caregiver behavior or extreme incident(s) that convey to children that they are worthless, flawed, unloved, unwanted, endangered, or only of value in meeting another’s needs” (APSAC, 1995).
The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (1995) has defined psychological maltreatment as “(1) spurning (i.e., hostile rejecting/degrading verbal and nonverbal caregiver acts that reject and degrade a child); (2) terrorizing (i.e., caregiver behavior that threatens or is likely to physically hurt, kill, abandon, or place the child or child’s loved ones or objects in recognizably dangerous situations); (3) isolating (i.e., caregiver acts that consistently deny the child opportunities to meet needs for interacting or communicating with peers or adults inside or outside the home); (4) exploiting/corrupting (i.e., modeling, permitting, or encouraging antisocial behavior); (5) denying emotional responsiveness (i.e., caregiver acts that ignore the child’s attempts and needs to interact and show no emotion in interactions with the child); and (6) mental health, medical, and educational neglect (i.e., ignoring the need for, failing, or refusing to allow or provide treatment for serious emotional/behavioral, physical health, or educational problems or needs of the child)” (APSAC, 1995)
There is strong evidence of psychological mistreatment becoming a hazard and damaging to the development and welfare of children which gives rise to the need for interventions and social concern to find solutions. Psychological mistreatment is very severe and long-lasting resulting in adverse development consequences for children (Hart, Brassard, and Binggeli, 1998). A lot of studies have been made in ascertaining the effect of psychological mistreatment in a family setting. The evidence found clearly indicates that a conceptual framework has to be made to first identify the causes and then to remove the emotional disturbance in children. The findings have indicated that there is a relationship between behaviors, feelings, and thoughts which lead to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, suicidal thinking, and fear amongst children thus having adverse consequences upon their normal psychological development. The challenge also includes dealing effectively with social competency problems and emotional problem symptoms. The resulting decline in mental competence and lack of impulse control has to be tackled along with issues of physical health problems.
The sense of possession of the child can assume devastating proportions and with overwhelming consequences. The parent’s desire to control the child increases when he or she makes attempts to become his own self. It is, for this reason, that majority of children who suffer from child abuse are young adults and teenagers. Parents who abuse children do not want to let go of the control they wield on them and believe that it is their duty to steer them through life, but eventually, the child wants his or her freedom and starts resisting and protesting, which makes parents indulge in child abuse. There are laws in several countries that prosecute and punish people indulging in child abuse. Unfortunately, the subject of child abuse is not deeply understood by lawyers and judges also, which makes it a difficult and time-consuming process to root out the evil practice.
Physical abuse of children is carried out primarily by inflicting physical injuries on the child whereby adults in the family may kick, beat, punch, burn as also harm them in other ways. The parents may not be having intentions of hurting the child and in most cases, the injuries result from issues of maintaining discipline in the child and thus injuring him. The failure to provide an environment of love and affection results in emotional abuse of the child. Parents thus reject or ignore the child. Verbal abuse amounts to emotional abuse whereby parents deride shout at and threaten the child repeatedly. Instances of sexual abuse are on the rise and more and more children have started to fall victims to this practice. Children are forced to engage in sexual activity without consent from an adult. Institutional abuse of children entails putting the life of the child in danger by using psychological, social, or physical means. It can also include an action that is initiated by an institution or by social welfare systems against individuals or groups of children. Such institutions comprise foster homes, child care centers, courts, schools, and other institutions.
Children who suffer from abuse acquire thoughts and behaviors that are self-destructive and anti-social. Children that are abused suffer from negative thoughts and are deprived of the skills required to make their way to successfully steer through the social world. The child is imposed with experiential restraints because he or she develops an inferiority complex because of the violent attacks and the tight control imposed by parents. The child loses a great deal of curiosity and does not get encouraged to take initiative on his own. Worse, the abused child is not able to develop his or her potential for intellectual growth.
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There has yet not much intervention by the government in dealing with the high levels of psychological mistreatment primarily because it does not directly reveal any kind of physical maltreatment. There may be some judicial precedents in regard to the prosecution of people who abuse children, but they are not readily available to the courts primarily because of the low number of court decisions in this regard. Judges engaged with the protection of children are mostly guided by the languages in their jurisdiction and in the face of limited data the principle of mental injury proves difficult to define. Some states in the US just use the term mental injury without corroborating further. States rely on the judicial process for curbing child abuse based on some requirements and standards. Action can be initiated by the court if the child undergoes severe mental and psychological injuries resulting from certain recognized acts. The injury has to be visible, sustained and there has to be the basis to conclude that the child’s emotional, psychological, or intellectual stability has been disturbed. The child should display a reduced functioning intellectually and psychologically. There should be some basis to assume that the child’s health, mental and emotional needs have not been provided for. A licensed health professional must give his opinion about the abuses suffered by the child. There is also a need to recognize specific types of psychological mistreatment which can fall within the ambit of child abuse.
A lot of progress has been made in assessing the reported cases and to the extent that children have been maltreated psychologically. Although a small beginning has been made in bringing about effectual prevention and corrective strategies there is still a need for massive efforts in evaluating the psychological maltreatment of children. In the US, guidelines have been framed to help in making legal decisions, planning cases, and planning treatment for psychological illnesses. The guidelines framed so far have helped considerably in ascertaining the nature and seriousness of psychological mistreatment. However, on a wider scale, the evolving of effective strategies for the treatment and curbing of child mistreatment has not reached much far and there has been no direct attention paid to psychological mistreatment. There have been models of intervention used successfully upon perpetrators of child abuse but this was possible only where well supervised and well-trained therapists were engaged with the proper infrastructure. Although there is immense potential for the study and development of definite treatment programs for children, the existing research clearly indicates that such efforts are still limited and a lot remains to be done.
There is a very strong need to give top priority to interventions in child maltreatment, specifically for psychological ill-treatment primarily because it has become to become a very widespread and powerful destructive power. Efforts of resilience have resulted in inefficiency and increased affiliations that are necessary for supporting healthy development under problematic circumstances. Correction and preventions are efficiently catered to by programs that support the development of a positive attachment with parents through responsive and sensitive parenting as also as cordial relations developed between students and teachers in school settings. Promoting and modeling suitable interpersonal capabilities for both children and parents and assisting children in developing an attitude of realistic competence levels in the community and school for both work and play, is required to be introduced as far as possible. In imbibing these traits children become more capable in conflict resolution and problem-solving. A great deal of progress can be made if relevant research is conducted to come up with suitable interventions so that constructive programs can be introduced through funding from society.
Child abuse is done in a number of ways and the result is always similar throughout the world. The child invariable suffers from severe emotional and bodily harm by way of the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that he or she is inflicted with at a tender age. Sexual and physical abuse leaves their signs behind unlike emotional abuse which though equally cruel is, in fact, more delicate and difficult to handle. Neglecting the child is the most common practice of abusing children. Awareness in regard to finding solutions to the ever pervading issue of child abuse is now catching on throughout the world and governments have begun to handle the problems within a legal framework so that the guilty are cautioned and punished if they do not mend their ways.
- American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC), (1995), Guidelines for the Psychosocial Evaluation of Suspected Psychological Maltreatment in Children and Adolescents. Chicago Bordens, Pastorino, Doyle-Portillo, (2008). What is psychology? (2nd edition). Wadsworth Publishing
- Claussen A H and Crittenden P M, 1991, Physical and Psychological Maltreatment: Relations among Types of Aaltreatment, Child Abuse and Neglect DaSilva Trevesa, Effects of Child Abuse, 2003,
- Newton C J, Effects of Child Abuse on Children: Abuse in General, 2001.
- Hart, S. N.; Brassard M. R.; Binggeli, N. J.; and Davidson, H. A. (2002). “Psychological Maltreatment.” In The APSAC Handbook on Child Maltreatment, 2nd edition, ed. J. E. B., Myers, L. Berliner, J. Briere, C. T. Hendrix, C. Jenny, and T. A. Reid. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.