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Friday, November 6th - 28 Percent of Children in Foster Care Abused-Child Abuse Article

A Critical Look At The Foster Care System:
How Widespread a Problem?



HOW WIDESPREAD A PROBLEM?

One of the most comprehensive surveys of abuse in foster care was conducted in conjunction with a Baltimore lawsuit. Trudy Festinger, head of the Department of Research at the New York University School of Social Work, determined that over 28 per cent of the children in state care had been abused while in the system.

Reviewed cases depicted "a pattern of physical, sexual and emotional abuses" inflicted upon children in the custody of the Baltimore Department.

Cases reviewed as the trial progressed revealed children who had suffered continuous sexual and physical abuse or neglect in foster homes known to be inadequate by the Department. Cases included that of sexual abuse of young girls by their foster fathers, and that of a young girl who contracted gonorrhea of the throat as a result of sexual abuse in an unlicenced foster home.[1]

In Louisiana, a study conducted in conjunction with a civil suit found that 21 percent of abuse or neglect cases involved foster homes.[2]

In another Louisiana case, one in which thousands of pages of evidence were reviewed, and extensive testimony and depositions were taken, it was discovered that hundreds of foster children had been shipped out of the state to Texas.

Stephen Berzon of the Children's Defense Fund explained the shocking findings of the court before a Congressional subcommitte, saying: "children were physically abused, handcuffed, beaten, chained, and tied up, kept in cages, and overdrugged with psychotropic medication for institutional convenience."[3]

In Missouri, a 1981 study found that 57 percent of the sample children were placed in foster care settings that put them "at the very least at a high risk of abuse or neglect."[4]

A later report issued in 1987 found that 25 percent of the children in the Missouri sample group had been victims of "abuse or inappropriate punishment."

Children's Rights Project attorney Marcia Robinson Lowry described the findings of the Missouri review before the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families:

The most troubling result of the Kansas City review was the level of abuse, undetected or unreported, in foster homes. 25% of the children in the sample were the subject of abuse or inappropriate punishment. 88% of those reports were not properly investigated.[5]

SEXUAL ABUSE

A recent class action lawsuit filed on behalf of foster children in the State of Arizona serves well to indicate the extent of sexual abuse of children in state care.

The suit alleges that over 500 of an estimated 4,000 foster children, a figure representing at least 12.5 percent of the state's foster care population, have been sexually abused while in state care.

The action also charged that "the acts and omissions of Defendants were done in bad faith, with malice, intent or deliberate indifference to and/or reckless disregard for the health, safety and rights of the Plaintiffs."[6]

But the problems associated with foster placements in Arizona are not limited to sexual abuse. During a recent two year period, one foster child died on average every seven and a half weeks in the state of Arizona. Four of them were reported as having been "viciously beaten to death" by their foster parents.[7]

The sexual abuse of children in government custody would appear to be a particularly widespread problem.

In Maryland, a 1992 study found that substantiated allegations of sexual abuse in foster care are four times higher than that found among the general population.[8]

In Kentucky, sex abuse in foster care was "all over the newspapers," according to department head Larry Michalczyk.

The former Commissioner explained that within a few years of time, his state saw a child die while in residential placement, a lawsuit filed against a DSS staff member on behalf of a foster child, and legislative inquiries into its child protection system.[9]

Kentucky would prove to be a problematic state, as case reviewers would find that only 55 percent of the children in the state's care had the legally mandated case plans.[10]

Perhaps the most significant indicator of the true extent of sexual abuse in foster care was a survey of alumni of what was described as an "exemplary" and "model" program in the Pacific Northwest, argues University professor Richard Wexler.

"In this lavishly-funded program caseloads were kept low and both workers and foster parents got special training. This was not ordinary foster care, this was Cadillac Foster Care," he explained.

In this "exemplary" program, 24 percent of the girls responding to a survey said they were victims of actual or attempted sexual abuse in the one home in which they had stayed the longest. Significantly, they were not even asked about the other foster homes in which they had stayed.[11]

The Children's Rights Project has initiated a number of successful civil suits against foster care and child welfare systems. One such landmark suit was brought against the Illinois foster care system. Attorney Benjamin Wolf instituted the legal action after concluding that the states foster care system functioned as "a laboratory experiment to produce the sexual abuse of children."[12]

Yet by many accounts, the sexual abuse of children in the state's care has increased along with the increase in placements, successful lawsuits notwithstanding. Even Patrick Murphy, the outspoken Cook County Public Guardian, admits that sexual abuse of children in the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has probably increased.[13]

SYSTEMWIDE ABUSES

According to an Associated Press investigation, in nearly half the states, cases take years to come to completion as agencies repeatedly fail to investigate abuse reports in a timely fashion, find permanent homes for children, or even keep track of those children under their care and custody.[14]

For various reasons, ranging from failure to provide adequate supervision and oversight of workers, to failure to provide safe child care facilities, 22 states and the District of Columbia have been ruled inadequate by the courts and now operate under some form of judicial supervision.[15]

But the reader should not be reassured that such problems are isolated only to those states which have been successfully litigated against. As Children's Rights Project attorney Marcia Robinson Lowry explained to a Congressional subcommittee: "We have turned down requests from a number of other states to institute additional lawsuits, solely because of a lack of resources."[16]

A 1986 survey conducted by the National Foster Care Education Project found that foster children were 10 times more likely to be abused than children among the general population. A follow-up study in 1990 by the same group produced similar results.[17]

The American Civil Liberties Union's Children's Rights Project similarly estimates that a child in the care of the state is ten times more likely to be abused than one in the care of his parents.[18]

In a legal action brought by the Children's Rights Project against the District of Columbia child welfare system, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found that:

because of the appalling manner in which the system is managed, children remain subject to continuing abuse and neglect at the hands of heartless parents and guardians, even after the DHS has received reports of their predicaments. The court also found that youngsters who have been taken into the custody of the District's foster-care system languish in inappropriate placements, with scarce hope of returning to their families or being adopted.

The Court also found that the agency entrusted with the care of children "has consistently evaded numerous responsibilities placed on it by local and federal statutes." Among the deficiencies cited was "failure to provide services to families to prevent the placement of children in foster care."[19]

Frustrated by the lack of progress after years of litigation, child advocates succeeded in placing the District of Columbia child welfare system into full receivership in 1995, making it the first such system in the nation to come under the direct control of the Court.[20]

In a Pennsylvania case, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit wrote in a 1994 decision: "It is a matter of common knowledge (and it is not disputed here) that in recent years the system run by DHS and overseen by DPW has repeatedly failed to fulfill its mandates, and unfortunately has often jeopardized the welfare of the children in its care."

The original complaint, filed by the Children's Rights Project on April 4, 1990, alleged that systemic deficiencies prevent the Pennsylvania department from performing needed services, and that it consistently violates the due process rights of both parents and children:

Specifically, plaintiffs claim that these amendments confer the right not to be deprived of a family relationship; the right not to be harmed while in state custody; the right to placement in the least restrictive, most appropriate placement; the right to medical and psychiatric treatment; the right to care consistent with competent professional judgment; and the right not to be deprived of liberty or property interests without due process of law.[21]

One of the plaintiffs in the Pennsylvania suit was "Tara M." on whose behalf the ACLU charged the city of Philadelphia with neglect. Human Services Commissioner Joan Reeves guaranteed the young girl an adoptive home with specially trained parents.

In August of 1996, Tara M. would make the headlines once again, as her new foster parents were sentenced for "one of the most appalling cases of child abuse" Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn E. Temin said she had ever heard.

Nine-year-old Tara has had three skin grafts and wears a protective stocking in recovery from burns over more than half her body. Police said the foster parents punished the girl by stripping her, forcing her into the bathtub and dousing her with buckets of scalding water. This was the very best of care the city could provide for Tara, a girl who had already endured years of physical and sexual abuse in the several foster homes into which she had been placed over the years.[22]

The Children's Rights Project has also been involved in suits against child welfare systems in the states of Connecticut, Kansas, Louisiana and New Mexico, and the cities of Kansas City, Missouri; Louisville, Milwaukee, and New York City.[23]

Says Children's Rights Project attorney Marcia Robinson Lowry: "There are a lot of injuries, a lot of abuse. The most significant thing is the psychological death of so many of these kids. Kids are being destroyed every day, destroyed by a government-funded system set out to help them."[24]

In California, as of 1989 Los Angeles County alone had paid $18 million in settlements to children who had been abused while in its custody.

One such case involved a nine-year-old boy who weighed only 28 lbs., and who could hardly speak after the suicides of his parents. County social workers failed to visit him in his foster home for four months.

During that time, he was beaten, sodomized, burned on his genitals and nearly drowned by his foster parents. He became a spastic paraplegic. By 1990 the state was threatening to take over Los Angeles County's child welfare system.[25]

The California-based Little Hoover Commission, in examining the functioning of the foster care system determined: "That children can come to harm--and even die--while supposedly under the protection of foster care is not in dispute." Some cases cited by the Commission included:

  • A foster mother arrested in Los Angeles on charges of beating to death her 23-month-old foster son, allegedly over toilet training problems.
  • A Los Angeles woman arrested for the attempted murder of a 19-month-old foster child who she said fell from a jungle gym. Doctors believed the severe head injuries, which may result in blindness, could only have come from abuse.
  • A Sacramento woman who was injured in a car accident who voluntarily placed her daughter in a foster care facility. During a tantrum by the child, an employee of the facility wrapped her in a blanket and squatted on her. She was later discovered dead.[26]

MINIMIZING THE ABUSES

Child welfare departments are rarely forthcoming with information about the actual extent of harm that comes to children in their care. It is largely through audits and casereadings associated with legal actions that the actual extent of abuses in the foster care system come to light.

The reasons for this may not be as complex as they are often made to appear.

Child welfare officials who have managed to entrench themselves in lifetime civil service positions in the more desirable nooks and crannies of the child welfare system have a vested interest to protect, and those who run public bureaucracies have devised their own "rationalized myths" to protect their interests, argues sociologist John Hagedorn.

The myths of "doing good" benefit those who are advantaged by existing institutional arrangements. Even as politicians are constantly criticizing "bureaucracy" and "bureaucrats," they approve millions of dollars worth of public funds to keep the bureaucracies running. As Hagedorn succinctly explains:

It's simply too risky for bureaucrats to admit that their agency may not be "doing good." The erosion of that myth may lead someone to investigate them or even propose cutting their budgets.[27]

But if there is one thing that is riskier for bureaucrats than admitting that their system may not be doing good, it is that it is doing far more harm than good.

Thus we find situations such as that in which the California Department's legal division discovered a "secret room" in the Los Angeles Department containing 15 filing cabinets holding approximately 3,000 case files on foster care facilities that had problems which were not reported to the state.

In one case, ten foster children slept on the floor of a garage, while ten more were crammed into an upstairs bedroom. Three had been abused, one with a fractured skull and two broken limbs. Yet the home was not closed until months after the conditions were discovered.[28]

Thus we find caseworkers in a Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services office running files relating to a botched investigation through a paper-shredder.[29]

Thus we find a New York City caseworker indicating as "unfounded" the repeated rapes of a young girl in institutional care, notwithstanding the testimony of credible witnesses.[30]

Thus we find an agency administrator in Oklahoma quietly dismissing two agency employees accused of the sexual abuse of foster children without so much as a blot on their records.[31]

Thus we find what was described as a "whitewash of wrongdoing" in an edited audit of a child welfare office in Utah, and death threats made against the rare brave legislator who dared to push for the public release of the unexpurgated document.[32]

Thus we find a report of system-wide abuses at the Columbus-Maryville "shelter" in Illinois suppressed by Cook County Public Guardian Patrick Murphy.[33]

THE QUIET ABUSES

With the high rate of multiple placements that most foster children endure, the possibility that they may experience overt physical or sexual abuse becomes an increasing certainty with each move. Yet even those children who are not subjected to overt physical or sexual abuse in state care often endure conditions tantamount to abuse.

Due to the overuse of foster care, the high number of children in custody often results in children being placed on a bed-available basis.[34]

The number of conventional foster homes in the public sector has dropped from 125,000 in 1988 to 100,000 today--and the "exodus continues," says Gordon Evans, information director for the National Foster Parent Association in Houston.

Evans notes that the average number of children per home is 3.7--up from about 1.4 in 1983--and he estimates that "tens of thousands" care for six, seven, and eight youngsters at a time.[35]

Because of the shortage of conventional foster homes, and due in no small measure to the unwillingness of child welfare agencies to provide meaningful services to families, children continue to be shuttled off to institutional or residential placements on a bed-available basis.

Julie and her twin brother Juan were two such children. They were placed with their grandmother who tried to obtain needed services for them. The agency neglected to provide services, instead shuttling them in and out of five placements in which they often failed to receive proper medical care for their health problems.

The agency then sent Julie and Juan, at the age of two, to an institution for adolescent boys. When their grandmother visited them she discovered that Julie had been physically abused. The twins were then placed with a foster mother who again abused them, while failing to provide proper medical care.

Juan, after suffering a great deal of pain, died at age 3 before he could be returned to his grandmother. Julie's condition worsened after her brother's death, and she died at age four. The advocacy group Children's Rights sued the city of New York for damages, and a jury awarded $87,500 to Julie's estate. Her surviving sister plans to use the money to attend college.[36]

Julie and Juan's story is in many respects typical. Because of the shortage of conventional foster homes due to the high number of children being unnecessarily placed in care, children often have labels assigned arbitrarily for purposes of placement.

Children may end up in a place like the Hegeman Diagnostic Center in Brooklyn, where a twelve-year-old girl who had been raped in a foster home was brought--only to be sexually abused by other girls at the center.

"We believe that assaults, sexual and otherwise, occur daily at the center," said Karen Freedman of Lawyers for Children.[37]

Or they may wind up in a private residential treatment center like Indian Oaks in Manteno, Illinois, on the grounds of what used to be the state mental institution.

"Indian Oaks occupies one building, but the rest is desolate, empty, broken buildings," says Peter Schmiedel, supervising attorney of the Special Litigations Team in the Office of the Public Guardian. "It's something out of a bad, eerie movie."

Says Schmiedel: "If ever you want to see something terrible, go to the DCFS intake shelter at Columbus-Maryville. Go downstairs where they keep the teenagers. The place used to be a morgue. It's a room without windows, crowded, wall-to-wall beds."

These beds were created in response to DCFS saying they need more beds, adds Schmiedel. "It's market-driven forces, children as industry."

Part of Schmiedel's job is to go through unusual incident reports. "We must get two or three hundred a week," he says, some of which include serious reports of physical and sexual abuse in treatment centers and foster homes. "It's frightening--we don't know which cases are the most serious."

"You see what some parents do to their kids, but then you see what happens to kids who are removed from their homes and put into foster homes... I mean, the stories are grotesque."[38]

Or consider the plight of those foster wards locked in detention in the San Francisco Youth Guidance Center Facility--maintained in small locked cells alongside alleged juvenile offenders who are themselves awaiting adjudication of their cases. A grand jury found the conditions endured by these children to be far worse than that endured by adult criminals in the County prison.[39]

THE SILENT NEGLECT

Even for those fortunate enough not to find themselves warehoused in glorified prisons, mental hospitals or congregate care facilities, overcrowding, medical and educational neglect are still the norm for many of the nation's foster children.

A 1993 action filed in Utah is in many ways typical. The National Center for Youth Law filed the class-action on behalf of about 1,400 children in foster care and another 10,000 alleged to have been abused and neglected.

The action charged that the state failed to provide adequately trained caseworkers, medical treatment and education to children in its care, that it used unlicensed foster homes and homes that did not meet federal standards. It also alleged that children bounce around in the system and languish in foster care. A subsequent legislative audit largely confirmed the allegations.[40]

By 1994, the Utah legislature approved what the Governor called a "SWAT Team approach" to handling the system wide deficiencies in its foster care and child protective services programs.[41]

By 1995 it had established "Judicial M*A*S*H units," courtrooms with temporary judges to handle the backlog of hundreds of children waiting for rulings on their cases.[42]

Also typical of recent actions is a Youth Law Center suit in California which accused Eloise Anderson, director of the Department of Social Services, of refusing to carry out state and federal laws which require audits of county child welfare programs.

Among the deficiencies cited in the lawsuit: "children in California's child welfare system have been subjected to inadequate supervision, substandard conditions and inadequate health care and education."[43]

On a national level, the General Accounting Office recently examined the issue of whether the nation's foster children were being adequately serviced with respect to their health care needs. The GAO found that:

  • despite foster care agency regulations requiring comprehensive routine health care, an estimated 12 percent of young foster children receive no routine health care, 34 percent receive no immunizations, and 32 percent have some identified health needs that are not met
  • an estimated 78 percent of young foster children are at high risk for human immunodeficiency virus as a result of parental drug abuse, yet only about 9 percent of foster children are tested for HIV
  • young foster children placed with relatives receive fewer health-related services than children placed with nonrelative foster parents, possibly since relative caregivers receive less monitoring and assistance from caseworkers
  • that the Department of Health and Human Services has not designated any technical assistance to assist states with health-related programs for foster children and does not audit states' compliance with health-related safeguards for foster children.[44]

As for the educational needs of children in state care, the situation is equally as distressing.

Miami attorney Karen Gievers, former President of the Florida Bar Association, filed a lawsuit in 1996, alleging that while 73 percent of Florida children among the general population graduate from high school or get an equivalent diploma, less than half of the state's foster children do.[45]

In 1995, a suit was filed in Florida against its Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. The suit sought to shut down the Department, forcing HRS to stop taking children into foster care until it could better aid the 9,300 children already under its supervision. According to Howard Davidson, director of the American Bar Association's Center on Children and the Law:

You could carbon-copy the lawsuit filed in Florida in every state. . . We have a child welfare system that's near collapse.[46]

Even for those children who are not necessarily subjected to overt physical or sexual while in state care, life in state care often fails to provide them with permanence or stability.

The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation reports that most foster care placements bear no resemblence to the ideal short term stay on the way to family reunification. Rather, "the devastating norm for foster children is multiple moves, extended stays, and no stable family ties."[47]

Or, as Bruce Boyer, supervising attorney for the Children and Family Justice Center of Northwestern Law School notes, "there are a set of harms that follow a kid in foster care even if they are treated as well as the foster care system is capable of treating children. For those kinds of harms there is no mechanism for holding decision makers accountable; the only one who suffers is the child."[48]

The most tragic aspect of all this is that most of the children subjected to the abuses of foster care don't need to be there. And, it is largely because the system is flooded with so many children that don't belong in care that these abuses continue to mount.

The situation is perhaps best summarized by a California based Santa Clara County Grand Jury report. "The Grand Jury did not see clear and convincing evidence that the foster care system operates with the best interest of the child in mind. It did find that the interest of the child often took a back seat to the interest of others.[49]

Wednesday, January 6th - Recognizing and Preventing Child Abuse

Child Abuse and Neglect

Recognizing and Preventing Child Abuse


Child Abuse

Child abuse is more than bruises and broken bones. While physical abuse might be the most visible sign, other types of abuse, such as emotional abuse or child neglect, also leave deep, long lasting scars. Some signs of child abuse are subtler than others. However, by learning common types of abuse and what you can do, you can make a huge difference in a child’s life. The earlier abused children get help, the greater chance they have to heal from their abuse and not perpetuate the cycle. Learn the signs and symptoms of child abuse and help break the cycle, finding out where to get help for the children and their caregivers.

Understanding child abuse and neglect

Child Abuse Hotline:

To get help or report abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).

Child abuse is more than bruises or broken bones. While physical abuse is shocking due to the scars it leaves, not all child abuse is as obvious. Ignoring children’s needs, putting them in unsupervised, dangerous situations, or making a child feel worthless or stupid are also child abuse. Regardless of the type of child abuse, the result is serious emotional harm.

Myths and facts about child abuse and neglect

MYTH #1: It's only abuse if it's violent.

Fact: Physical abuse is just one type of child abuse. Neglect and emotional abuse can be just as damaging, and since they are more subtle, others are less likely to intervene. .

MYTH #2: Only bad people abuse their children.

Fact: While it's easy to say that only "bad people" abuse their children, it's not always so black and white. Not all abusers are intentionally harming their children. Many have been victims of abuse themselves, and don’t know any other way to parent. Others may be struggling with mental health issues or a substance abuse problem.

MYTH #3: Child abuse doesn't happen in “good” families.

Fact: Child abuse doesn't only happen in poor families or bad neighborhoods. It crosses all racial, economic, and cultural lines. Sometimes, families who seem to have it all from the outside are hiding a different story behind closed doors.

MYTH #4: Most child abusers are strangers.

Fact: While abuse by strangers does happen, most abusers are family members or others close to the family

MYTH #5: Abused children always grow up to be abusers.

Fact: It is true that abused children are more likely to repeat the cycle as adults, unconsciously repeating what they experienced as children. On the other hand, many adult survivors of child abuse have a strong motivation to protect their children against what they went through and become excellent parents.

Effects of child abuse and neglect

All types of child abuse and neglect leave lasting scars. Some of these scars might be physical, but emotional scarring has long lasting effects throughout life, damaging a child’s sense of self, ability to have healthy relationships, and ability to function at home, at work and at school. Some effects include:

  • Lack of trust and relationship difficulties. If you can’t trust your parents, who can you trust? Abuse by a primary caregiver damages the most fundamental relationship as a child—that you will safely, reliably get your physical and emotional needs met by the person who is responsible for your care. Without this base, it is very difficult to learn to trust people or know who is trustworthy. This can lead to difficulty maintaining relationships due to fear of being controlled or abused. It can also lead to unhealthy relationships because the adult doesn’t know what a good relationship is.
  • Effects of child abuse and neglectCore feelings of being “worthless” or “damaged.” If you’ve been told over and over again as a child that you are stupid or no good, it is very difficult to overcome these core feelings. You may experience them as reality. Adults may not strive for more education, or settle for a job that may not pay enough, because they don’t believe they can do it or are worth more. Sexual abuse survivors, with the stigma and shame surrounding the abuse, often especially struggle with a feeling of being damaged. 
  • Trouble regulating emotions. Abused children cannot express emotions safely. As a result, the emotions get stuffed down, coming out in unexpected ways. Adult survivors of child abuse can struggle with unexplained anxiety, depression, or anger. They may turn to alcohol or drugs to numb out the painful feelings.

Types of child abuse

There are several types of child abuse, but the core element that ties them together is the emotional effect on the child. Children need predictability, structure, clear boundaries, and the knowledge that their parents are looking out for their safety. Abused children cannot predict how their parents will act. Their world is an unpredictable, frightening place with no rules. Whether the abuse is a slap, a harsh comment, stony silence, or not knowing if there will be dinner on the table tonight, the end result is a child that feel unsafe, uncared for, and alone. 

Emotional child abuse

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me? Contrary to this old saying, emotional abuse can severely damage a child’s mental health or social development, leaving lifelong psychological scars. Examples of emotional child abuse include:

  • Constant belittling, shaming, and humiliating a child
  • Calling names and making negative comparisons to others
  • Telling a child he or she is “no good," "worthless," "bad," or "a mistake."
  • Frequent yelling, threatening, or bullying.
  • Ignoring or rejecting a child as punishment, giving him or her the silent treatment.
  • Limited physical contact with the child—no hugs, kisses, or other signs of affection.
  • Exposing the child to violence or the abuse of others, whether it be the abuse of a parent, a sibling, or even a pet.

Child neglect

Child neglect—a very common type of child abuse—is a pattern of failing to provide for a child's basic needs, whether it be adequate food, clothing, hygiene, or supervision. Child neglect is not always easy to spot. Sometimes, a parent might become physically or mentally unable to care for a child, such as with a serious injury, untreated depression, or anxiety. Other times, alcohol or drug abuse may seriously impair judgment and the ability to keep a child safe.

Older children might not show outward signs of neglect, becoming used to presenting a competent face to the outside world, and even taking on the role of the parent. But at the end of the day, neglected children are not getting their physical and emotional needs met.

Physical child abuse

Physical child abusePhysical abuse involves physical harm or injury to the child. It may be the result of a deliberate attempt to hurt the child, but not always. It can also result from severe discipline, such as using a belt on a child, or physical punishment that is inappropriate to the child’s age or physical condition.

Many physically abusive parents and caregivers insist that their actions are simply forms of discipline—ways to make children learn to behave. But there is a big difference between using physical punishment to discipline and physical abuse. The point of disciplining children is to teach them right from wrong, not to make them live in fear.

 

 

Physical abuse vs. Discipline

In physical abuse, unlike physical forms of discipline, the following elements are present:

  • Unpredictability. The child never knows what is going to set the parent off. There are no clear boundaries or rules. The child is constantly walking on eggshells, never sure what behavior will trigger a physical assault.
  • Lashing out in anger. Physically abusive parents act out of anger and the desire to assert control, not the motivation to lovingly teach the child. The angrier the parent, the more intense the abuse.
  • Using fear to control behavior. Parents who are physically abusive may believe that their children need to fear them in order to behave, so they use physical abuse to “keep their child in line.” However, what children are really learning is how to avoid being hit, not how to behave or grow as individuals.

Child sexual abuse: A hidden type of abuse

Help for child sexual abuse:

1-888-PREVENT (1-888-773-8368) Stop It Now

1-800-656-HOPE Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)

Child sexual abuse is an especially complicated form of abuse because of its layers of guilt and shame. It's important to recognize that sexual abuse doesn't always involve body contact. Exposing a child to sexual situations or material is sexually abusive, whether or not touching is involved.

While news stories of sexual predators are scary, what is even more frightening is that sexual abuse usually occurs at the hands of someone the child knows and should be able to trust—most often close relatives. And contrary to what many believe, it’s not just girls who are at risk. Boys and girls both suffer from sexual abuse. In fact, sexual abuse of boys may be underreported due to shame and stigma.

The problem of shame and guilt in child sexual abuse

Aside from the physical damage that sexual abuse can cause, the emotional component is powerful and far-reaching. Sexually abused children are tormented by shame and guilt. They may feel that they are responsible for the abuse or somehow brought it upon themselves. This can lead to self-loathing and sexual problems as they grow older—often either excessive promiscuity or an inability to have intimate relations.

The shame of sexual abuse makes it very difficult for children to come forward. They may worry that others won’t believe them, will be angry with them, or that it will split their family apart. Because of these difficulties, false accusations of sexual abuse are not common, so if a child confides in you, take him or her seriously. Don’t turn a blind eye!

Warning signs of child abuse and neglect

Warning signs of child abuse and neglectThe earlier child abuse is caught, the better the chance of recovery and appropriate treatment for the child. Child abuse is not always obvious. By learning some of the common warning signs of child abuse and neglect, you can catch the problem as early as possible and get both the child and the abuser the help that they need.

Of course, just because you see a warning sign doesn’t automatically mean a child is being abused. It’s important to dig deeper, looking for a pattern of abusive behavior and warning signs, if you notice something off.

Warning signs of emotional abuse in children

  • Excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong.
  • Shows extremes in behavior (extremely compliant or extremely demanding; extremely passive or extremely aggressive).
  • Doesn’t seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver.
  • Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, tantruming).

Warning signs of physical abuse in children

  • Frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts.
  • Is always watchful and “on alert,” as if waiting for something bad to happen.
  • Injuries appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt.
  • Shies away from touch, flinches at sudden movements, or seems afraid to go home.
  • Wears inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot days.

Warning signs of neglect in children

  • Clothes are ill-fitting, filthy, or inappropriate for the weather.
  • Hygiene is consistently bad (unbathed, matted and unwashed hair, noticeable body odor).
  • Untreated illnesses and physical injuries.
  • Is frequently unsupervised or left alone or allowed to play in unsafe situations and environments.
  • Is frequently late or missing from school.

Warning signs of sexual abuse in children

  • Trouble walking or sitting.
  • Displays knowledge or interest in sexual acts inappropriate to his or her age, or even seductive behavior.
  • Makes strong efforts to avoid a specific person, without an obvious reason.
  • Doesn’t want to change clothes in front of others or participate in physical activities.
  • An STD or pregnancy, especially under the age of 14.
  • Runs away from home.

Child abuse and reactive attachment disorderChild abuse and reactive attachment disorder

Severe abuse early in life can lead to reactive attachment disorder. Children with this disorder are so disrupted that they have extreme difficulty establishing normal relationships and attaining normal developmental milestones. They need special treatment and support.

Read: Attachment Disorders: Insecure Attachment and Reactive Attachment Disorder

Risk factors for child abuse and neglect

While child abuse and neglect occurs in all types of families—even in those that look happy from the outside—children are at a much greater risk in certain situations.

  • Domestic violence. Witnessing domestic violence is terrifying to children and emotionally abusive. Even if the mother does her best to protect her children and keeps them from being physically abused, the situation is still extremely damaging. If you or a loved one is in an abusive relationships, getting out is the best thing for protecting the children.
  • Alcohol and drug abuse. Living with an alcoholic or addict is very difficult for children and can easily lead to abuse and neglect. Parents who are drunk or high are unable to care for their children, make good parenting decisions, and control often-dangerous impulses. Substance abuse also commonly leads to physical abuse.
  • Untreated mental illness. Parents who suffering from depression, an anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, or another mental illness have trouble taking care of themselves, much less their children. A mentally ill or traumatized parent may be distant and withdrawn from his or her children, or quick to anger without understanding why. Treatment for the caregiver means better care for the children.
  • Lack of parenting skills. Some caregivers never learned the skills necessary for good parenting. Teen parents, for example, might have unrealistic expectations about how much care babies and small children need. Or parents who where themselves victims of child abuse may only know how to raise their children the way they were raised. In such cases, parenting classes, therapy, and caregiver support groups are great resources for learning better parenting skills.
  • Stress and lack of support. Parenting can be a very time-intensive, difficult job, especially if you’re raising children without support from family, friends, or the community or you’re dealing with relationship problems or financial difficulties. Caring for a child with a disability, special needs, or difficult behaviors is also a challenge. It’s important to get the support you need, so you are emotionally and physically able to support your child.

Recognizing abusive behavior in yourself

If you need professional help...

Do you feel angry and frustrated and don’t know where to turn? Call 1-800-4-A-CHILD to find support and resources in your community that can help you break the cycle of abuse.

Do you see yourself in some of these descriptions, painful as it may be? Do you feel angry and frustrated and don’t know where to turn? Raising children is one of life’s greatest challenges and can trigger anger and frustration in the most even tempered. If you grew up in a household where screaming and shouting or violence was the norm, you may not know any other way to raise your kids.

Recognizing that you have a problem is the biggest step to getting help. If you yourself were raised in an abusive situation, that can be extremely difficult. Children experience their world as normal. It may have been normal in your family to be slapped or pushed for little to no reason, or that mother was too drunk to cook dinner. It may have been normal for your parents to call you stupid, clumsy, or worthless. Or it may have been normal to watch your mother get beaten up by your father.

It is only as adults that we have the perspective to step back and take a hard look at what is normal and what is abusive. Read the above sections on the types of abuse and warning signs. Do any of those ring a bell for you now? Or from when you were a child? The following is a list of warning signs that you may be crossing the line into abuse:

How do you know when you’ve crossed the line?

  • You can’t stop the anger. What starts as a swat on the backside may turn into multiple hits getting harder and harder. You may shake your child harder and harder and finally throw him or her down. You find yourself screaming louder and louder and can’t stop yourself.
  • You feel emotionally disconnected from your child. You may feel so overwhelmed that you don’t want anything to do with your child. Day after day, you just want to be left alone and for your child to be quiet.
  • Meeting the daily needs of your child seems impossible. While everyone struggles with balancing dressing, feeding, and getting kids to school or other activities, if you continually can’t manage to do it, it’s a sign that something might be wrong.
  • Other people have expressed concern. It may be easy to bristle at other people expressing concern. However, consider carefully what they have to say. Are the words coming from someone you normally respect and trust? Denial is not an uncommon reaction.

Breaking the cycle of child abuse

If you have a history of child abuse, having your own children can trigger strong memories and feelings that you may have repressed. This may happen when a child is born, or at later ages when you remember specific abuse to you. You may be shocked and overwhelmed by your anger, and feel like you can’t control it. But you can learn new ways to manage your emotions and break your old patterns.

Remember, you are the most important person in your child’s world. It’s worth the effort to make a change, and you don’t have to go it alone. Help and support are available.

Tips for changing your reactions

  • Learn what is age appropriate and what is not. Having realistic expectations of what children can handle at certain ages will help you avoid frustration and anger at normal child behavior. For example, newborns are not going to sleep through the night without a peep, and toddlers are not going to be able to sit quietly for extended periods of time.
  • Develop new parenting skills. While learning to control your emotions is critical, you also need a game plan of what you are going to do instead. Start by learning appropriate discipline techniques and how to set clear boundaries for your children. Parenting classes, books, and seminars are a way to get this information. You can also turn to other parents for tips and advice.
  • Take care of yourself. If you are not getting enough rest and support or you’re feeling overwhelmed, you are much more likely to succumb to anger. Sleep deprivation, common in parents of young children, adds to moodiness and irritability—exactly what you are trying to avoid.
  • Get professional help. Breaking the cycle of abuse can be very difficult if the patterns are strongly entrenched. If you can’t seem to stop yourself no matter how hard you try, it’s time to get help, be it therapy, parenting classes, or other interventions. Your children will thank you for it.
  • Learn how you can get your emotions under control. The first step to getting your emotions under control is realizing that they are there. If you were abused as a child, you may have an especially difficult time getting in touch with your range of emotions. You may have had to deny or repress them as a child, and now they spill out without your control. For a step by step process on how you can develop your emotional intelligence, visit EQ Central.

Learning to Control your Anger

Getting anger under control is easier than you think. With a little insight into the real reasons for your anger and some effective anger management tools, you can learn how to express your feelings in healthier ways and keep your temper from hurting the people in your life.

Read: Anger Management: Tips and Techniques for Getting Anger Under Control

Helping an abused or neglected child

Helping an abused or neglected childWhat should you do if you suspect that a child has been abused? How do you approach him or her? Or what if a child comes to you? It’s normal to feel a little overwhelmed and confused in this situation. Child abuse is a difficult subject that can be hard to accept and even harder to talk about.

Just remember, you can make a tremendous difference in the life of an abused child, especially if you take steps to stop the abuse early. When talking with an abused child, the best thing you can provide is calm reassurance and unconditional support. Let your actions speak for you if you’re having trouble finding the words. Remember that talking about the abuse may be very difficult for the child. It’s your job to reassure the child and provide whatever help you can.

Tips for talking to an abused child

  • Avoid denial and remain calm. A common reaction to news as unpleasant and shocking as child abuse is denial. However, if you display denial to a child, or show shock or disgust at what they are saying, the child may be afraid to continue and will shut down. As hard as it may be, remain as calm and reassuring as you can.
  • Don’t interrogate. Let the child explain to you in his or her own words what happened, but don’t interrogate the child or ask leading questions. This may confuse and fluster the child and make it harder for them to continue their story.
  • Reassure the child that they did nothing wrong. It takes a lot for a child to come forward about abuse. Reassure him or her that you take what is said seriously, and that it is not the child’s fault.
  • Safety comes first. If you feel that your safety or the safety of the child would be threatened if you try to intervene, leave it to the professionals. You may be able to provide more support later after the initial professional intervention.

Reporting child abuse and neglect

Child Abuse Hotline:

To get help or report abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).

If you suspect a child is being abused, it’s critical to get them the help he or she needs. Reporting child abuse seems so official. Many people are reluctant to get involved in other families’ lives. Understanding some of the myths behind reporting may help put your mind at ease if you need to report child abuse:

  • I don’t want to interfere in someone else’s family. The effects of child abuse are lifelong, affecting future relationships, self-esteem, and sadly putting even more children at risk of abuse as the cycle continues. Help break the cycle of child abuse.
  • What if I break up someone’s home? The priority in child protective services is keeping children in the home. A child abuse report does not mean a child is automatically removed from the home - unless the child is clearly in danger. Support such as parenting classes, anger management or other resources may be offered first to parents if safe for the child.
  • They will know it was me who called. Reporting is anonymous. In most states, you do not have to give your name when you report child abuse. The child abuser cannot find out who made the report of child abuse.
  • It won’t make a difference what I have to say. If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, it is better to be safe than sorry. Even if you don’t see the whole picture, others may have noticed as well, and a pattern can help identify child abuse that might have otherwise slipped through the cracks.

Related articles

Help for Abused and Battered WomenHelp for Abused and Battered Women
Domestic Violence Shelters, Hotlines, and Support

Healing Emotional and Psychological TraumaHealing Emotional and Psychological Trauma
Symptoms, Treatment, and Recovery


More Helpguide Articles:

Related links for child abuse and neglect

General information about child abuse and neglect

Child Abuse Learning Center – The nonprofit that runs the National Abuse Hotline® has a multipage site offering statistics and succinct lists and descriptions of different types of child abuse and their signs and effects, as well as strategies for prevention. (Childhelp)

Child Abuse and Neglect – This site, from a bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides links to basic information about child abuse and neglect and to many other sites and publications that provide more detailed information and help. (Child Welfare Information Gateway)

Warning signs of child abuse

Recognizing Child Abuse: What Parents Should Know (PDF) – Lists signs and symptoms of child abuse in children and in their parents. Covering physical abuse, emotional maltreatment, neglect, and sexual abuse, this outline is useful for teachers, family friends, and relatives. (Prevent Child Abuse America)

Physical and Behavioral Indicators of Abuse – Clearly laid out in chart form, detailed lists of child abuse and neglect symptoms in several different areas. (The National Children’s Advocacy Center)

Child Abuse - Signs and symptoms – Detailed lists from a British nonprofit, plus insight on listening to children who may be abused and helplines for reporting abuse. Also available in a PDF brochure. (Kidscape)

Physical child abuse

Physical Child Abuse – Reviews the definition of physical abuse and signs of abuse, including shaken baby syndrome (Child Welfare Information Gateway)

Shaken Baby Syndrome – Clear, comprehensive description of what SBS is, how it causes brain damage and death, its signs and symptoms, and strategies for soothing a baby before the caregiver’s frustration mounts. (KidsHealth)

Sexual child abuse

Prevent Child Sexual Abuse: Facts About Those Who Might Commit It (PDF) – Offers warning signs of sexual abuse in children and in their adult abusers, along with tips on how to prevent and stop it. (Stop It Now!)

Understanding Child Sexual Abuse – A clear, objective explanation of the effects of child sexual abuse, the chances of recovery, and strategies for prevention. (American Psychological Association)

Sexual Abuse – Good brief description of what constitutes child sexual abuse, how to spot it, and what to do if your child tells you about it. (American Academy of Pediatrics)

A Parent's Guide to Internet Safety – Scroll down to the subhead “What Are Signs That Your Child Might Be At Risk On-line?” for ways to recognize possible child abuse, particularly sexual abuse, on the Internet and what to do to prevent and resolve it. (Federal Bureau of Investigation)

Emotional child abuse

Emotional Child Abuse – Reviews the definition of emotional abuse and signs of abuse (Child Welfare Information Gateway)

Emotional abuse – See the “Answers to common questions” on this British site for good advice about recognizing and responding to emotional child abuse. (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children)

Fact Sheet: Emotional child abuse (Prevent Child Abuse America)

Child neglect

Child Neglect: Definition and Scope of Neglect – Article on what constitutes child neglect, how it affects children, what causes it, and how the community can intervene. (Child Welfare Information Gateway)

Neglect – Succinct lists of physical and behavioral indicators suggesting that a child is being neglected. (Coalition for Children)

Effects of child abuse

Long-term Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect – This government-sponsored site offers details on the physical, psychological, behavioral, and societal effects of child abuse. (Child Welfare Information Gateway)

Reporting and stopping child abuse

Toll-Free Crisis Hotline Numbers (Child Welfare Information Gateway)

Talking about abuse Discusses what to do if either a child or a caregiver approaches you about abuse. (NSPCC)

Reporting Child Abuse – Guidance on how to find out what your responsibilities are and where to get more information. (Darkness to Light)

Preventing child abuse

Talking to a child about abuse Helps parents teach children how to protect themselves against abuse, including learning about touch, and that they should never keep secrets. (Childhelp)

Talking to kids about child sexual abuse Discusses concrete tips on how to protect children against abuse, including talking to family members and avoiding tricks. (Stop it Now)

Prevention Tips for Parents – This page carries links to PDF articles and fact sheets that together provide a good overview of how to protect children from abuse. (Prevent Child Abuse America)

How to Stop Child Abuse in a Public Place – Tips for how to respond when you see someone mistreating a child. (Child Abuse Network)

You Have the Power to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect- Discusses ways to prevent abuse both by education and by strengthening community ties. (Child Welfare Information Gateway)

Joanna Saisan, MSW, Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., contributed to this article. Last reviewed: December 2009.

Monday, April 30th - New New York Bullying Law

Dignity for All Students Act (DASA): NYS's Anti-Bullying Law

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All children have the right to attend school in a safe, welcoming, and caring environment.  DASA specifically ensures this for New York State public school students. 

The Dignity for All Students Act (The Dignity Act also known as DASA) was signed into law on September 13, 2010.  The legislation amended State Education Law by creating a new Article 2, Dignity for All Students, and revising Section 801-a regarding instruction in civility, citizenship, character education, tolerance, respect for others, and dignity.  It combats bias-based bullying, harassment, and discrimination in public schools, and includes awareness and sensitivity in the relations of people including individuals of different races, weights, national origins, ethnicity, religions or religious practices, mental or physical abilities, sexes, sexual orientations, gender identities or expressions.

CAPS is participating on the NYS Dignity for All Students Task Force, State Policy Workgroup, and Professional Development Workgroup to assist the State Education Department in crafting guidelines for schools to comply with DASA.  

Highlights of the new law, effective July 1, 2012

  • All public elementary and secondary school students are protected. 
  • DASA prohibits the harassment and discrimination of students by students and by school personnel.
  • Each school's Code of Conduct must be amended to reflect the prohibition of discrimination and harassment of students by students or staff in age-appropriate language. 
  • Districts must appoint at least one staff member in each school to handle all bullying incidents on school property (including athletic fields, playgrounds, and parking lots), in school buildings, on a school bus/vehicle, as well as at school-sponsored events or activities).
  • Administrators must report incidents of bullying or bias-based harassment to the NYS Department of Education

Public school administrators, pupil personnel and support staff... get the tools you need to make your school DASA compliant, through a 4-hour training taught by CAPS.  Learn more about "Preparing for DASA."

Portions excerpted from NYS Education Department The New York State Dignity for All Students Act (Dignity Act) brochure

Download the NYS Education Department PowerPoint presentation: New York State Dignity For All Students Act (Dignity Act): An Overview For School Administrators and Personnel 

Friday, May 4th - Personal Injury Settlement From Explosion

Harnick and Harnick was able to achieve a $2.5 million dollar settlement for a man who was seriously injured as the result of an electrical explosion.

 

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