Term Paper: Child Abuse and Neglect in America

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Child Abuse and Neglect in America

Child abuse is a problem that has a major cost to society. It is said that more children are reported to have sustained abuse and neglect in America than in any other industrialized nation. (CWLA, 1997)

Firstly, there is a cost to the child, including a physical one, a psychological one and a social one. The most obvious impact is to the child's health. Annual figures for child abuse have reported over 2 million cases of abuse or neglect and around 2000 child fatalities as a result of abuse and neglect. (NCCAN, 1992)

There are also continuing effects on both the child's psychology and their interaction with society. Child abuse is often related to ongoing problems with the child fitting into society. Results that have been shown in studies vary from learning difficulties, depression and anxiety to the child being more likely to take part in antisocial behaviour. (Drucker, 1997)

We see than that the effect on society as a whole is also a concern, with the victims of child abuse more likely to: become violent crime offenders; attempt suicide; abuse drugs and alcohol; run away from home; engage in teenage prostitution; and commit sexual assault crimes. (Carter, 2000)

The financial costs to society can also be considered. It is reported that child protective agencies spend $3,500 per child to investigate child abuse and provide short-term services, this amounts to $3 billion per year. (CWLA, 1997) a further $6 billion is spent annually on associated services such as out-of-home care. (CWLA, 1997)

It has been shown in various studies that their is a significant correlation between poverty and child abuse. The poverty rate in America is higher than in any other industrialized nation, with 1992 figures showing 22 per cent of all children lived below the poverty line and studies also showing that this figure is increasing. (Drucker, 1997)

We have seen that child abuse has short-term effects on both the abused children and on society and also longer term effects. Even with the resources directed at preventing child abuse, the occurrence of it continues to grow. With poverty also increasing, there is a need to fully understand the factors relating to child abuse so that effective prevention programs can be designed.

BACKGROUND RESEARCH

Incidence

Not only are the incidence of child abuse alarmingly high, the figures also show increasing incidence. The most comprehensive study into child abuse in America is reported in the Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse (NIS). This last study was completed in 1993, with the previous one which allows the growth of child abuse to be seen, completed in 1986.

In this latest report, twice as many children were reported as being abused than in the previous one and the total number of seriously injured and endangered children both quadrupled. (NCCAN, 1996.)

The research was compiled with several types of neglect considered. These included sexual abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect and physical abuse. The following shows the number of cases and the per cent increase. (NCCAN, 1996)

NIS-2 NIS-3% Increase

Number of sexually abused children 119,200-217,700 83

Number of physically neglected children 167,800-338,900 102

Number of emotionally neglected children 49,200-212,800 333

Number of physically abused children 269,700-381,700 42

Number of children seriously injured 141,700-565,500 299

The NIS study reports the total number of abused and neglected children in the United States as being 2,815,600. This figure almost doubled from the previous study. (NCCAN, 1996)

As can be seen, the number of children being neglected is substantial and is also increasing.

Contributing Factors

The NIS study found children of single parents had a much greater risk than those children living with both parents and that children of large families were three times more likely to be harmed. (NCCAN, 1996)

It is also found that parent unemployment contributes to child abuse and neglect, with U.S. statistics showing 50 per cent of the fathers of abused children were unemployed, three times the national average. (CUPA, 1997) the difficulty here is in deciding whether unemployment correlates because it signifies poverty, or whether it is one of the reasons poverty correlates.

It is noted that there is a relationship between poverty and other factors such as unemployment, dilapidated and overcrowded housing, insufficient food, insufficient recreation and high stress. (Drucker, 1997) Because of this, there is difficult in saying which factors are actually contributing and which are just an accompanying factor.

Correlation to Poverty

While there are many contributing factors that suggest an increased likelihood of being abused, poverty is the most significant factor.

While child abuse and neglect occur in all socio-economic classes, they are far more prevalent among poor families." (Drucker, 1997)

One report cites various statistics demonstrating the correlation between poverty and child abuse. It is said that in 1988 families with incomes below the poverty lines had a rate of maltreatment of 54 per 1000 children, while families above the poverty line had a rate of 8 per 1000. The same report also states that of all the child abuse cases reported, nearly 60 per cent of the families involved had been on welfare. (Drucker, 1997)

The NIS study compared children from families with incomes below $15,000 to children from families with incomes above $30,000. The results showed that children from low-income families were over 22 times more likely to suffer from child abuse. (NCCAN, 1996) the study also found that the likelihood increased in relation to the level of poverty. For the lowest income families children were 18 times more likely to be sexually abused, 56 times more likely to be educationally neglected and over 22 times more likely to be seriously injured from maltreatment. (NCCAN, 1996)

This same correlation is also noted by Drucker (1997), "even among the poor, child abuse is centered among the poorest of the poor. And among the poorest of the poor are the ones where the most severe injuries are clustered."

The NIS study also suggests that poverty may be the reason for the increase in neglect:

Family income is the strongest correlate of incidence in nearly all categories of abuse and neglect, with the lowest income families evidencing the highest rates of maltreatment. Increases in incidence in 1986 may partially derive from decreased economic resources among the poorer families and the increase in the number of children living in poverty." (NCCAN, 1996)

Controversies

One of the problems associated with studying child abuse and neglect is gauging the accuracy of the figures. As the NIS reports asks:

are the observed increases in the incidence of child abuse and neglect, especially the quadrupling of the numbers of children who were seriously injured or endangered by maltreatment, real increases in the scope of the problem, or do they instead reflect improved recognition on the part of sentinels and other reporters to CPS?" (NCCAN, 1996)

The rise in the number of seriously injured suggests that the figures do reflect real increases. If the increases had only occurred for those endangered, increased awareness may have explained it. but, it is not feasible that four times as many children had been seriously harmed but not reported. For this reason, despite controversy, we can conclude that child neglect really is on the rise.

Other sources suggest that these figures may actually underestimate the number of child abuse cases, especially in relation to sexual abuse, noting that often children suffering from sexual abuse suffer shame which results in them never reporting it.

Concerns are also raised about the impact of reducing the funding to support child welfare and of the impact of welfare reform, "will welfare reform and its consequent work requirements and time limits strengthen families or push more families into poverty, placing children at greater risk of maltreatment?" (CWLA, 1997) With increased rates of both poverty and child abuse, the question of funding becomes an important one.

One paper suggests that it is the combination of conditions associated with poverty that cause increased incidence of neglect, "poverty generates numerous factors which can weigh heavily on family until one becomes the last straw." (CUPA, 1997) in fact, it is often the case that the factors contributing rely so much on each other that it is difficult to determine the real causal factors.

Consequences

The consequences on the child being abused have been looked at in a number of studies. As well, as the obvious result to physical health, child abuse has other consequences.

One study reports that, "child maltreatment is one of the strongest predictors of children's educational under achievement, the development of emotional disturbances and antisocial behaviours." (Drucker, 1997) in the same study it is also noted that these problems result in educational failure, in turn lack of education reduces opportunities for employment and so contributes to continuing poverty.

The poverty rate in America is increasing, as is the rate of child abuse. In many studies the fact that child abuse tends to result in the child becoming poor is noted. This is not to say that all… [END OF PREVIEW]

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