Child abuse refers to the maltreatment of a child, which can include verbal or physical violence, neglect, or both. Most doctors define four main kinds of child abuse:
Child abuse was called battered child syndrome when it was first identified in the 1950s simply because repeated physical injuries to children could be documented by x rays and photographs of external injuries. The definition of abuse was expanded over the years to include neglect, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse.
The maltreatment of kids and teenagers is more widespread than numerous individuals realize; while at least 900,000 children are reported to child protective services in an average year as victims of abuse, researchers think that one out of every seven kids between the ages of two and seventeen (eight to nine million children) in the United States is coping with some type of abuse or neglect.
The consequences of abuse depend partly on the kind of abuse or neglect, the number of perpetrators involved and their relationship to the child, the child's age at the time of abuse, and regardless of whether and when the child or family gets help. Kids physically abused in infancy are at high risk of permanent brain damage from shaken baby syndrome, including vision disorders, learning difficulties, and cerebral palsy.
Children abused emotionally at any age are at risk of depression, panic disorder, memory problems, sleep disorders, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and suicide attempts. One study reported that 80 percent of a sample of young adults who had been emotionally abused as children had developed one or more psychiatric disorders by age twenty. Childhood abuse also has significant longterm effects on a person's behavior in adult life.
Such adults are 1.5 times more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol than those from healthier families. Adults who had been abused as kids are more likely to be sexually promiscuous, drop out of school, and have problems getting and keeping a job. A National Institute of Justice study done in 2001 indicated that being abused or neglected as a child increased the likelihood of adult criminal behavior by 28 percent and violent crime by 30 percent. Last, the experience of childhood abuse makes it challenging for adult survivors to form lasting and healthy relationships.
Most child abuse occurs at the hands of someone the child knows, generally a parent, other relative, caregiver, or neighbor. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about twelve kids in every 1,000 in the United States were reported to child protective services as victims of child maltreatment in 2006, the last year for which data are accessible. Of these 900,000 kids, 64 percent had been victims of neglect, 17 percent were physically abused, 9 percent were sexually abused, and 7 percent had been emotionally abused. Girls are slightly more likely to be abused than boys; 52 percent of kids reported as victims of abuse had been girls.
Some other studies have reported higher rates of emotional abuse as high as 75 percent when emotional abuse is considered as a factor in other forms of abuse or neglect. Of adults who abuse kids, the majority are women 58 percent. Infants are the most likely age group to suffer abuse; the CDC reported that twenty-four out of every 1,000 kids below the age of twelve months had been abused in 2006, compared to fourteen per 1,000 for kids between one and 3 years of age, thirteen per 1,000 for children between 3 and seven, eleven per 1,000 for children between eight and fifteen, and six per 1,000 for teenagers sixteen to seventeen years of age.
Race and ethnicity are also factors. In 2006, the rate of child abuse among African Americans was twenty per 1,000 children; for Native Americans, sixteen per 1,000; and for kids of mixed race, fifteen per 1,000. Child abuse and neglect can lead to death. The CDC reported that more than 1,500 children of all ages died in the United States in 2006 as the direct result of abuse and neglect. Seventy-eight percent of these deaths occurred in kids below the age of four years.
The basic trigger of child abuse and neglect is inadequate parenting. Parents can become abusive or neglectful toward their kids for a number of different factors:
The diagnosis of child abuse could be complex simply because some kinds of abuse don't leave physical evidence. Teachers, police, doctors, dentists, and in some states clergy are required by law to report suspected child abuse to local law enforcement. Although each state sets its own policies for investigation and protective action, in most states the police and child protective services will investigate the situation and if appropriate, remove the child from the house temporarily or permanently.
Final decisions about the child's placement are generally made through the state's family court system. The child will probably be given a complete physical examination to search for evidence of traumatic injuries. X rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, or other imaging studies are generally ordered to check for evidence of fractures, bleeding in the brain, damage to the eyes or internal organs, and other injuries. The child might be given a blood test to check for sexually transmitted diseases. The physician will also rule out a couple of rare bone or blood diseases that can cause the skin to bruise easily or bones to fracture from extremely minor injuries.
The treatment of child abuse is complex and often involves long-term psychotherapy for the parents or other perpetrators as well as the child. Most states require some kind of counseling for the parents. Children who have suffered severe or long-term abuse frequently need special education programs as well as physical therapy or medical treatment for their physical injuries.
The prognosis of recovery from child abuse varies considerably. Some survivors, sometimes called resilient children, are able to cope with physical injuries and painful memories and do extremely well in adult life. Others resort to drug and alcohol abuse, criminal behavior, risk-taking, and other self-destructive behaviors; they may eventually attempt or commit suicide.
Factors that enhance a child's chances of recovering from abuse or neglect include caring adults in the extended family or neighborhood who can serve as role models for the child; a community that takes responsibility for preventing child abuse; and high intelligence in the child.
Prevention of child abuse is a long-term procedure that demands participation by individuals, families, communities, and the health care and legal systems. Some programs that are yielding great outcomes include home visitation programs aimed at reducing violence in families; foster grandparent programs; educating young parents about children's needs and regular developmental patterns; support groups for single or stressed parents; hotlines for reporting child abuse; and public awareness programs.
Other preventive strategies include teaching kids to identify abnormal and abusive behaviors and to report them to family members or other suitable adults. This approach often helps to identify family members with abusive tendencies before serious injury occurs.
Medical researchers have devoted intense attention to child abuse in recent years. As of 2008, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was supporting 280 separate studies of treatments and prevention methods for child abuse. The treatments include various forms of psychotherapy for abused children and reducing drug abuse along with other self-harming behaviors in adults who had been abused in childhood. Prevention strategies that are being studied include psychotherapy for abusive parents, parent education programs, home visitation programs, and family strengthening programs.
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