Child Abuse and Neglect Essay

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Child abuse and neglect is a relatively new concept. The acknowledgment of children as a separate entity worthy of protection from abuse and neglect (also known as maltreatment) from parents and caregivers began just over 100 years ago. Prior to this time period, children did not hold a specialized place in society. They were expected to behave as adults in every capacity. For example, during the Middle Ages, children were expected to perform adult roles such as work and hard labor as early as 5 years old. Because they did not hold any special status, they were often exposed to mature experiences. Parents did not censor their speech or actions in the presence of their children. It was not uncommon for parents to have sex in front of their children or fondle sexual organs of their children for their own sexual pleasure. This behavior today constitutes abuse and is against social mores.

The role of children, as well as their rights and the manner in which society treats them, has drastically changed. Throughout the 1800s, the need to develop programs to protect children was realized but poorly executed. While many of the efforts failed, government began legislating protections for children. Eventually, federal laws were passed requiring states to act and focus on making decisions in the best interest of the child while preserving the family. Today, child abuse is a significant problem with between 1 and 2 million youth abused or neglected. The damaging effects on the victims may last a lifetime tainting the child’s outlook on life and enlisting him or her into the cycle of violence. While child abuse carries a significant cost to society, a financial burden exists with the complete cost of abuse reaching up to $100 billion annually.

Historically, patriarchy has dominated much of the world and in many places it still does. Children were considered to be property of the male figure that dominated them. This included disciplining children as the father deemed appropriate. Even if the beating was brutal, it was uncommon for the father to be punished unless the child was killed or mutilated. As the study of medicine advanced, so did life expectancy. This change lessened the necessity for children to take on the role of an adult so early in their lives as adults were living longer. The 16th and 17th centuries noticed significant medical advances and social changes that recognized the special needs of children. In response to this recognition, the House of Refuge was born.

In 1825, the first House of Refuge was created in an attempt to remove children from the corrupting influence of the city. Children who were caught participating in criminal or deviant acts would be sent to the House of Refuge located in a rural area in an effort to provide the child with an opportunity to learn a skill, receive training in labor by working on a farm, and receive the benefits of strict educational programming. Similar programs, including almshouses and poor farms, arose to save youth in impoverished circumstances and instill in them the values of hard work and morality. Instead of developing a work ethic, however, inmates of these environments often became sources of slave labor. Due to brutal beatings, overcrowding, and escapes, the House of Refuge and other similar programs lost their influence by the mid-20th century.

Protecting Children

While the House of Refuge was leaving its mark on youth, other efforts to protect children were underway. At this time children were still viewed as the property of their fathers, and discipline was left to paternal discretion. One of the first examples of an organization coming to the defense of a child occurred with the case of Mary Ellen. Mary Ellen had been adopted by a family in her community. Church members began to notice that Mary Ellen was being abused by her adoptive parents. While there were no formal mechanisms in place at the time to protect children, the church community decided to organize and plead with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) for its support, arguing that humans were among Earth’s animals and thus deserved protection just like all others. Eventually, the church was successful in removing the child from her home and she was adopted by new parents. This particular case gained notoriety, influencing the creation of organizations designed to protect children. One example was the creation of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Created in 1875, this organization focused on protecting children from physical abuse and prosecuting the abusing parents. Following the lead of the SPCA, the American Humane Association (AHA) added a bureau for protecting children in addition to animals in 1887. The change remained permanent as the AHA continues to protect children today.

States began to rise to the occasion beginning with Illinois passing a bill in 1899 creating a separate juvenile court responsible for protecting children from all forms of maltreatment in both the criminal and civil sectors. Ten years later the White House acknowledged the problems associated with child maltreatment by hosting the White House Conference on Dependent Children. The purpose of this conference was to explore the issue and to share ideas about what government can do to respond to and prevent child abuse. Over the next century, more organizations arose advocating for laws to be written at both the state and federal level to protect children. Additionally, efforts were expanded to include medical professionals, who began identifying and reporting abused children to the appropriate officials. Similarly, governments began providing additional funds for placing children in out-of-home care such as foster care.

In 1935 the federal government passed the Social Security Act which first authorized funding for child welfare services and aid to dependent children. In 1961 the Social Security Act was amended to include funding for suitable housing for those children displaced by mistreatment.

Legislation

Late in the 20th century Congress passed major pieces of legislation that impacted the child dependency system. With the passage of the 1974 Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) and the 1980 Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act (AACWA), agencies were now held accountable for prosecuting cases of child abuse and ensuring protection. More specifically, CAPTA charged the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to conduct research, to provide grants to states to develop prevention programs, and to study the effectiveness of child abuse reporting laws. The law further defined a child as any person under the age of 18 and child abuse as behavior which included physical, mental, and sexual abuse as well as negligent treatment or maltreatment. Before a state could receive federal funds for child maltreatment programs, CAPTA required states to pass child abuse and neglect laws, and have procedures for reporting child abuse, investigating reports, and adjudicating cases. The law also required states to provide immunity from prosecution for those reporting child abuse, a policy to keep children’s records confidential, and procedures for judges to follow when appointing guardians. The last significant piece CAPTA included was the establishment of the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect and the Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information. These centers provide avenues for agencies to keep track of the number of reported and substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect.

During the 1970s, with Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) funding, the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (NCASAA) was created as a mechanism for volunteers to represent and advocate on behalf of children removed and/or referred to the courts for abuse or neglect. Later this organization would be renamed the Court Appointed Special Advocate program or CASA. In 1990, the Victims of Child Abuse Act provided grants to fund and expand CASA programs. These efforts resulted in more representation for children throughout the court process.

As previously noted, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act was passed by Congress in 1980 to find a balance between preserving the family while making decisions that are in the best interest of the child. The act followed three pillars: preventing unnecessary foster care placement, reunification of children with biological parents when possible, and expeditious adoption of children who are unable to return to parental custody. The law also provided funds to subsidize the cost of adopting children with special needs. Special needs include children who cannot return to their parents’ home; children who have not been able to be placed in a permanent home; or children who have a condition that prevents the child from being placed in a permanent home without assistance. The court was ordered by the AACWA to play a role in protecting children as well. The juvenile court judge was mandated to review cases when a child was in an out-of-home placement every six months to redetermine what was in the best interest of the child. At the end of 18 months, the judge must determine a permanent placement that could include continued foster care, adoption, or returning to parental custody. This act was further amended with the passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) in 1997, which reduced the amount of time for permanency planning from 18 to 12 months. The ASFA further emphasizes and moves forward the date for termination of parental rights when child and family reunification is not possible.

Child abuse and neglect cases are referred to the courts in a variety of different ways. Children may self-report, or caregivers and others in the community may report the abuse. Educators and medical professionals have both a legal and ethical responsibility to report. Law enforcement officials or representatives may witness the child abuse and/or neglect occurring. Regardless of how the case gets referred to the criminal justice system, the process for investigating remains relatively the same.

Guidelines and Best Practices

While each state and jurisdiction differs with the exact processing of abuse and neglect cases, there are general guidelines that are typically followed. One avenue for ensuring that best practices are followed in each state was the creation of The Resource Guidelines: Supporting Best Practices and Building Foundations for Innovation in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases—Looking Back and Moving Forward. This publication developed by the Permanency Planning for Children–Department of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges sought to examine and create national guidelines and standards of handling child abuse and neglect cases (child maltreatment) through the court system. Some of the key components of these guidelines include opting to work toward the creation of permanency plans for the children within 12 months of being placed in out-of-home care, and ideally remaining with their families when possible or being placed in a secure outside residence when it is not. Relying on the leadership of judges, this group seeks to work in the best interest of the children.

Child abuse and neglect cases are not always handled as criminal matters. In fact, the majority of cases are processed through the civil court system. In most instances where extreme abuse or death is not present, the case is referred to Child Protective Services through direct contact or a hotline that may be established in the state or local area. Once referred, the child, parents, witnesses, and any other relevant parties are interviewed separately by a child protective services representative or a trained law enforcement officer. If it is determined that the child is at risk for severe maltreatment (abuse or neglect), the child will be removed immediately from the home and placed with an appropriate family member, if possible, or an alternative out-of-home placement. If the child can remain in the home but there is still a determination that the case should be referred to the court, services are normally provided to the family for immediate assistance.

A petition is then filed for the family to appear in front of a judge. At this time, the child will be appointed representation, typically an attorney known as a guardian ad litem (GAL). Each state and/or local jurisdiction establishes the protocol for appointing a GAL. These individuals may be attorneys; they may be placed on a rotating list for representation; they may volunteer their time or be paid employees. The GAL may also function as a CASA worker. Children may also be appointed a CASA representative at this time. Parents are also given an opportunity for representation. If they cannot afford their own attorney, the court typically appoints one for them. Following these referrals, courts are required to hold periodic hearings to ensure the progress of the child and family through the court system.

Child abuse and neglect cases may be severe enough to be processed through the criminal courts. In these instances, the prosecutor is typically the individual that makes the determination of whether or not to prosecute. Many courts throughout the United States have worked to coordinate the efforts between the civil and criminal court system. For example, as of 2007, 26 court systems and two regional/states were identified as “model courts.” The purpose of these courts is to focus on family reunification when possible and establish permanency plans for the child early in the process so children do not linger too long in an out-of-home placement, particularly foster care.

Recognizing that a connection between children referred for dependency (abuse or neglect), delinquency, parental divorce, and/or criminal matters exists, these model courts abide by the motto “one judge one court.” Thus, when a child or the family is referred for any two of these cases (albeit simultaneously or at different times) they would appear in front of the same judge. This gives the courts the opportunity to view the cases as co-occurring matters instead of separate and distinct behavioral issues. These courts also work to develop treatment plans for the family, which may include dependency mental health and drug treatment courts. In courts where the criminal and civil cases remain separate, communication may create a problem not only for the families but also for the service providers. One key criticism that has been given is the opportunity for duplication of services and a waste of precious resources. Thus, most courts work to achieve collaborative approaches even when the court structure does not allow for direct communication.

The combination of the criminal and civil courts further allows for the creation of multidisciplinary teams and cross-training. Multidisciplinary teams may be divided into three specific responsibility areas: investigative teams, service planning teams, and systems coordination teams. The investigative team typically includes representatives from law enforcement, child protective services (CPS), and the prosecutor. These individuals are responsible for collecting information on behalf of the child and the accused to ensure that enough evidence is collected to process the case. The service planning team consists of members in the community such as mental health professionals, victim advocates, CPS, and school guidance counselors. These individuals work collectively to identify the specific needs of the victims and to coordinate therapeutic responses. The systems coordination teams consist of all members of the service planning team as well as city planners or individuals who assist in providing funding or locating other available services in the community. The systems coordination teams are interested in ensuring that duplication of services does not occur.

Child Abuse and Neglect Defined

Today, as noted by the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse (APRI), there are five distinct types of abuse and neglect recognized by most states. These include physical abuse, exposure to domestic violence, neglect, psychological maltreatment, and sexual abuse. Physical abuse is defined as any injury that would be considered criminal including injuries inflicted to the child that were not accidental or that resulted in death. Often the abuse is administered in the name of discipline, however, it meets criminal standards. Many children in this category suffer from “battered child syndrome,” which is repeated or serious injuries to the child over a long period of time.

Exposure to domestic violence includes the direct witnessing of abuse of a parent or significant other, hearing the abuse, or inferring that the abuse has occurred because of the injuries sustained by the parent. The growing number of domestic violence cases has led many states to adopt this definition because of the potential for the co-occurrence of child abuse. It is estimated that between 30 and 60 percent of youth who are reared in homes with domestic violence are likely to be victims themselves.

Children who experience neglect have been denied the basic essentials of life such as physical, emotional, or intellectual well-being. This may include failure to provide safe living conditions as well as failure to provide adequate educational opportunities or medical care.

Psychological maltreatment may also be known as emotional abuse and is often more difficult to detect or define. In these instances the parent or caregiver attacks the emotional or social well-being of the child. As noted by APRI, there are six categories of psychological maltreatment: (1) rejecting/spurning, which includes singling out one child for punishment or degradation; (2) isolating, which includes removing the child from their social environment by confining them to either their room or a specific room and not allowing them out; (3) terrorizing, which may include direct confrontation. threats, or exposure to violent circumstances; (4) ignoring, which includes withdrawing emotional attachment or affection toward the child; (5) exploiting/corrupting, which includes exposing the child to criminal activity such as shoplifting or drug usage; and (6) denying opportunities for medical or mental health treatment.

Sexual abuse is the last category of abuse. Sexual abuse is defined by the state or federal statute constituting criminal activity. These events may be either intrafamilial (within the family) or extra familial (someone outside of the family).

Extent of Child Abuse and Neglect

Estimations of the frequency of child abuse victimization vary widely. This is likely due to the methods states use to record data as well as varying definitions of child abuse. For example, the National Incidence Study of Child Abuse-4 (NIS-4) found 1.25 million children experienced maltreatment between 2005 and 2006; while in the 2007 to 2010 child welfare outcome report to Congress, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that 750,000 children faced maltreatment. While the studies were in separate years, it is unlikely the number would drastically reduce over a short span of time. The NIS-3 found 1.5 million children facing maltreatment while in the same year the Department of Health and Human Services reported over 2 million cases. Unlike those of other agencies, the NIS reports use a methodology that employs the harm standard, counting children who have experienced demonstrable harm. One common finding all official report agencies agree on is that from 60 to 65 percent of child maltreatment cases are substantiated, or proven to be valid.

Costs of Child Abuse and Neglect

The cost of maltreatment is significant to tax payers and the economy. Costs may include expenses incurred for hospitalization stays, special education, long-term foster care, and juvenile court. Prevent Child Abuse America projected the total cost of child abuse and neglect was $94 billion in 2001, while another study estimated the financial burden of child abuse reached $103.8 billion in 2007. The 2012 estimate found the total cost of American child abuse at approximately $80 billion.

A common profile exists among maltreated children. Children who experience physical and sexual abuse or neglect are typically younger than six or reside in a lower-socioeconomic status home. The link between poverty and abuse is believed to occur because of the stress parents confront while battling poverty. Similarly, children born out of wedlock, with birth defects, or born prematurely are more likely to face abuse than other children. Females are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than males, while males are more likely to be victims of physical abuse and neglect. A family with a history of substance abuse is also a common predictor of child abuse.

The residual effects of child abuse often translate into future problems for the victim. Many children who have experienced maltreatment often have attachment problems with others. Likewise, they also frequently suffer from poor social skills, aggressive behavior, depression, and substance abuse. These situations regularly translate into predictors of crime, as poor social skills lead to weak social bonds. Abused children commonly live unsupervised in low-income, transient neighborhoods, suggesting the potential for criminal behavior. Finally, the cycle of violence suggests that those who witness and experience violence and abuse as children are more likely to become violent adults.

Conclusion

As noted, while child abuse and neglect continues to be a major concern to the general public welfare, efforts to focus on family reunification and child safety remain at the forefront of concern. With the passage of acts such as CAPTA and AACWA, and the creation of resource guidelines, efforts to improve the handling of these cases continues. Model courts serve as an effective alternative to processing cases separately through both the criminal and civil courts. Movements such as these will continue to improve how child abuse and neglect cases are handled and hopefully result not only in a reduction in these immediate cases but also a disruption in the cycle of violence.

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