Essay: Black's Law Dictionary ), Child Abuse

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¶ … Black's Law Dictionary (1991), child abuse is "any form of cruelty to a child's physical, moral or mental well-being. Also used to describe form of sexual attack which may or may not amount to rape. Such acts are criminal offenses in most states" (p. 239). By contrast, the legal definition of abused and neglected children describes children who "are suffering serious physical or emotional injury inflicted upon them including malnutrition" (p. 11). The first step in providing social service treatment to physically abusive families is therefore to ensure the physical safety of the children involved (Herschell & McNeil, 2005). This response, typically from the law enforcement community, can range along the entire continuum of severity, up to and including incarceration of the offending parents and placement of the abused children in foster care for an undetermined duration (Bryant & Milsom, 2005).

Following this step, a wide array of treatment modalities is available for physically abusive families. Family therapy and parent-child cognitive behavior therapy have been shown to be effective in improving parental discipline and reducing parent-child conflicts. In addition, home visits, therapeutic day treatments, individual child psychotherapy and art therapy have been found useful by some clinicians (Montgomery & Ramchandani, 2009). According to Herschell and McNeil (2005), "Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), originally developed for the treatment of externalizing behavior problems in children aged two to seven years, has also been used to treat child physical abuse populations" (p. 15). The PCIT protocol, though, is designed to be a short-term intervention for families (Hershell & McNeil, 2005). Other protocols that have been deemed best practices for the treatment of physical abuse include Abuse-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy for child physical abuse (AF-CBT) and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy for child sexual abuse (Herschell & McNeil, 2005).

It is important to note, though, that there is no "one-size-fits-all" clinical intervention that is equally effective or applicable to all physically abusive family settings. In this regard, Mennen and Trickett (2011) emphasize that, "The etiology of child maltreatment is complex and related to characteristics of the parents and children, the surrounding ecology, the situation in time, and social factors, among other things" (2011, p. 21). Therefore, achieving the desired outcomes of reducing parent-child conflict and eliminating physically abusive behaviors requires a careful assessment of the home environment, the family dynamics that are involved, and what interventions, if any, have been used in the past (Jouriles, McDonald, Slep, Heyman & Garrido, 2008). Because social services resources are scarce (Bryant, 2009), it is important to identify optimal solutions as quickly as possible and evaluate their effectiveness to ensure that these outcomes are achieved. Unfortunately, many agencies lack the manpower needed to visit every family every day, but focusing this level of oversight on specific cases may be needed over the short-term in any event.

Answer 6-2.

In the 19th century and early 20th century, members of the community in the rural American South would visit neglectful fathers at night and "persuade" them that they should take better care of their families if their children were hungry and dressed in rags. Likewise, when signs of child neglect are detected by members of the community today, social services can become involved in meaningful ways that can help parents recognize their responsibilities and help them become better parents in response. Admittedly, parenting is a challenging enterprise by any measure, and some people struggle to provide their children with the basic needs of living every day. Some of these parents may be too proud or otherwise restrained by different cultural values to seek out social service assistance, viewing it as "welfare" or "charity." In the vast majority of cases, though, neglectful parents can be neglectful by other acts of both commission and omission, suggesting that they know their children are going without but simply do not care. In these situations, removing the children to other settings may be appropriate until the responsible parent or parents are able to demonstrate their capacity to respond to the needs of their children.

These interventions will take place after disequilibrium has occurred, and the outcomes thereafter will seek to reestablish equilibrium, a process that also exists along a continuum (Grinker & McGregor, 1991). In this regard, Radosevich, Levine, Sumner, Knight, Arendt and Johnson (2009) report that, "A perceived discrepancy between performance and internal goals is considered an error and creates disequilibrium in the system. Individuals experience negative affect and are motivated to restore equilibrium by reducing the discrepancy either cognitively or behaviorally" (p. 37).

Cognitive therapy seeks to restore as much equilibrium in people's lives as possible, but the process is not one-time or static, but rather is an iterative process that requires time to achieve substantive outcomes in many treatment settings. As Radosevich and his associates point out, "These responses affect individuals' subsequent progress toward the goal, at which time another self-evaluation process occurs. If a discrepancy still remains, individuals are motivated to reduce it again. The process continues until performance matches the goal" (2009, p. 38). Therefore, cognitive therapy focuses on reducing these discrepancies as the primary corrective motive for changing human behavior (Radosevich et al., 2009).

In addition, cognitive therapy holds that there are a number of negative feedback loops contained in a hierarchal framework; this framework is organized such that a series of subgoals may need to be established and achieved in order to move on to higher order needs and outcomes (Radosevich et al., 2009). According to these authorities, "The implication is that in order to achieve any given goal, specific subgoals may need to be established and pursued sequentially as attention shifts from one feedback loop to another" (Radosevich et al., 2009, p. 12). This means that social workers can mutually establish a series of subgoals for neglectful parents that can be used to as benchmarks to assess the effectiveness of the interventions used in terms of achieving the desired individual outcomes. Over time, the best case scenario for this approach would be to help formerly neglectful parents achieve the skills and desire to become satisfactorily attentive parents.

Answer 6-3. When shots are being fired on the battlefield, most soldiers agree that keeping low is just common sense, and even very young children intuitively recognize that keeping a low profile when another child is being beaten or abused is also a good idea. Not surprisingly, young people will try to avoid the same types of situations that their abused siblings experience, and may in fact contribute to the incidence of such abusive behaviors on the part of the parent intentionally as a means of retribution for perceived transgressions, or simply for their own amusement. Indeed, children may contribute to the incidence of the abuse of their siblings by "ratting them out" to their parents or framing them to appear to have committed some infraction that is known to evoke abusive parental behaviors. In other cases, though, siblings may contribute to such abusive behaviors unintentionally and will go to great lengths to avoid becoming involved in the parent-abused child dynamic at all (Miller, 2002). In these cases, young people may be highly reluctant to participate in any family therapy in case they might become the focus of the parents' abuse in the future. In any event, in order to be effective, treatment planning should include all of the immediate family members.

Answer 6-4.

Like grisly deaths and violent accidents, many people want to distance themselves as far as possible from the truly bad things in life such as child sexual abuse, even if they recognize that these things exist and that they need to do something about them (Crosson-Tower, 2009). There are also some other popular misperceptions about child abuse and neglect that constrain mobilizing resources at the community, regional, state and national levels. For example, Taylor and Daniel (2005) emphasize that, "Different perceptions of child neglect are determined by cultural agreement and belief systems, social systems and the personal views held by individuals. These views influence both professional and media attitudes towards neglect" (p. 73). A summary of the relevant literature cited by these authorities included the following beliefs concerning child neglect in the United States:

1. Child neglect does not have serious consequences;

2. It is inappropriate to judge parents involved in poverty-related neglect;

3. Child neglect is an insurmountable problem;

4. Other forms of child maltreatment are more compelling;

5. Ambiguity and vagueness make it difficult to define neglect (Taylor & Daniel, 2005, p. 73).

A careful reading of "Jim's story" (http://www.stopitnow.org/story_jim) indicates that Jim was sexually abused by his own father beginning when he was "two or three years old," but he does not say how long this abuse lasted, if the abuse persisted at all, nor does he elaborate otherwise. Nevertheless, he does cite his status as a victim of such abuse to help place his actions into context, but these assertions somehow ring hollow when combined with his recurring references to his "painful reexaminations" of his life and how his actions have adversely… [END OF PREVIEW]

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