Child abuse is the intentional use of physical force or intentional omission of care by a parent or caretaker that causes a child to be hurt, maimed, or killed. Child abuse covers a wide range of harmful actions, which generally vary with the age of the child, Infants and preschool children are most likely to suffer deliberately inflicted fractures, burns, and bruises.
In 1997, over 3 million children were reported for child abuse and neglect to child protective service agencies in the United States. This figure represents a 1.7% increase over the number of children reported in 1996. Child abuse reporting levels have increased 41% between 1988 and 1997. In 1997, 1,054,000 children were confirmed by Child Protective Services as victims of child maltreatment. This represents 15 out of every 1,000 U.S. citizens (Wang).
A recent survey commissioned by Prevent Child Abuse America found the following when surveying parents randomly by telephone. Thirty seven percent of American parents had reported insulting or swearing at their children within the past twelve months. Fifty percent of the parents had neglected their child’s emotional needs, with sixty percent of the respondents indicating that this neglect took place “almost every day.” Six percent had hit, or tried to hit their children with their hands or with a foreign object. One percent had kicked, bit or punched their children within the last twelve months (Wang).
It may not sound alarming to say that one percent of parents report that they have kicked, bit or punched their children, but one percent of the estimated 103 million parents of children under 17 years of age still amounts to a large number of children. If you stop and think this only accounts for the parents who admit engaging in these behaviors, who knows how many more do it and do not admit to it.
There are different forms of child abuse. Among them are physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. According to the 1997 survey, physical abuse represented 22% of confirmed cases, sexual abuse 8%, neglect 54%, emotional maltreatment 4% and other forms of maltreatment 12%. The most eye-opening statistic is that more than three children die each day as a result of child abuse or neglect. Child abuse is a real problem that plagues our society.
Physical abuse, which constitutes twenty two percent of all substantial cases of child abuse, is the most visible form of abuse and may be defined as any act, which results in a non-accidental trauma or physical injury. Inflicted physical injury most often represents unreasonable, severe corporal punishment or unjustifiable punishment.
This usually happens when a frustrated or angry parent strikes shakes or throws a child. Physical abuse injuries result from punching, beating, kicking, biting, burning or otherwise harming a child. While any of these injuries can occur accidentally when a child is at play, physical abuse should be suspected if the explanations do not fit the injury or if a pattern of frequency is apparent. The longer the abuse continues, the more serious the injuries to the child and the more difficult it is to eliminate the abusive behavior(Sedlak).
Children who have been physically abused present with a multitude of psychiatric disturbance. Some of these may include anxiety, aggressive behavior, PTSD, depressive disorder, and poor self-esteem. If not treated for the abuse these children may become abusive parents themselves.
What makes people abuse children? It is difficult to imagine that any person would intentionally inflict harm on his or her own child. Many times, physical abuse is a result of excessive discipline or physical punishment that is inappropriate for the child’s age. The parent may simply be unaware of the magnitude of force with which he or she strikes a child. Most parents want to be good parents but sometimes lose control and are unable to cope. Factors which contribute to child abuse include the immaturity of parents, lack of parenting skills, unrealistic expectations about children’s behavior and capabilities, a parent’s own negative childhood experience, social isolation, frequent family crises and drug or alcohol problems. Child abuse is a symptom that parents are having difficulty coping with their situation.
One particular form of child abuse is Shaken Baby Syndrome. Shaken Baby Syndrome is when a baby is vigorously shaken, the head moves back and forth. The sudden whiplash motion can cause bleeding inside the head and increased pressure on the brain, causing the brain to pull apart and resulting in injury to the baby. This is one of the leading forms of fatal child abuse. A baby’s head and neck are susceptible to head trauma because his or her muscles are not fully developed and the brain tissue is exceptionally fragile. Head trauma is the leading cause of disability among abused infants and children(Sedlak).