Research Paper: How Can We Prevent Child Abuse?

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Child Abuse

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2010) all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Territories have mandatory child abuse and neglect reporting laws that require certain professionals and institutions to report suspected maltreatment to a child. Though each State has its own definitions of child abuse, federal legislation describes child abuse as "Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm."

Most States recognize four major types of maltreatment: neglect, physical abuse, psychological mal-treatment, and sexual abuse. Although any of the forms of child maltreatment may be found separately, they also can occur in combination.

An estimated 3.3 million referrals, involving the alleged maltreatment of approximately 6.0 million children, were received by child protective services (CPS) agencies in 2009. Of these referrals, 61.9% were screened in for a response by CPS agencies. One-quarter of the CPS responses determined at least one child who was found to be a victim of abuse and neglect.

Background

William Patton (2011), reports that child protection policies of the early American colonists closely mirrored those of seventeenth -- and eighteenth-century Britain. Colonial remedies of placing pauper children into involuntary apprenticeships or into poorhouses initially followed English legal customs, but soon colonial theorists expanded court jurisdiction over juveniles to include contexts beyond poverty. Calvinist notions of poverty as idleness and sin permitted court expansion into the normative definitions of the best interest of children.

The state of New York, in 1875, established the first Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (SPCC) to help enforce child protection laws. However, since the SPCC was composed primarily of "wealthy, white men, almost all of them Protestant," who hired middle-class men as family investigators, the families that were targeted were largely poor immigrant families, who were judged by middle-class mores and vague standards such as improper parental guardianship. The numerous competing reform movements and children's aid societies of the mid-to late 1800s focused on the child as a member of a family group, not as individuals, and most emphasized removing children from their own families and placing them into a different home environment.

By the beginning of the twentieth century the tide had turned away from family separation and toward family preservation. The twentieth century ushered in a dramatic shift away from private child protective services in favor of governmental control by public agencies authorized under both federal and state child protection statutory schemes. In 1899 the first juvenile court was established in Illinois to provide for the care and custody of children in a manner that was an alternative equivalent to that of their parents. By 1920 all but three states had a juvenile court system. However, the goal of family reunification was rarely realized by the early juvenile courts because few services were made available to assist poor uneducated parents in curing the conditions that led to state intervention in the first place.

Modern child dependency court development was shaped by several decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. In Meyers v. Nebraska (1923) the Court held that parents have a fundamental constitutional interest in rearing their children. The Court held in Lassiter v. Department of Social Services (1981) that, under certain circumstances, parents are entitled to court-appointed attorneys when they face involuntary termination of their parental rights in child protection proceedings. In Santosky v. Kramer (1982) the Court held that the state has the burden of demonstrating, by clear and convincing evidence, that termination of parental rights is necessary to protect children. Local juvenile courts no longer had unbridled discretion to informally and permanently separate parents and children. However, the court only ruled in cases involving permanent severance of parental rights. States are still free to provide fewer due-process procedural rights in temporary child protection cases.

In 1980 Congress passed the first comprehensive federal child protective services act, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, which focused on state economic incentives to substantially decrease the length and number of foster care placements. This act also required specific family reunification services. In 1997, in order to cure many of the defects in the 1980 act, Congress passed the Adoption and Safe Families Act, which shifted the focus from family reunification to expeditious permanency for children in adoptive placements. All state child protection systems adopted the federal guidelines as a requirement for receiving federal subsidies.

Discussion

According to Levi and Portwood (2011) over 5.8 million children in the U.S. were referred for suspected abuse, with 735,000 confirmed cases, and at least 1,586 deaths in 2007. There is reason to believe that these numbers significantly underestimate the true incidence, with one large study finding that 21% of women and 31% of men reported having been physically abused as children. It is well established that child abuse occurs in every community and at all levels of society.

Consequences of child abuse include bruises, lacerations, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic somatic disorders, brain injury, and acute and chronic medical care. Recent estimates for the U.S. put the total direct costs related to child abuse at over $33 billion annually, with indirect costs adding an additional $70 billion.

Both advocates and critics of the child protective system agree that investigation is the cornerstone of the U.S. child abuse protection system. However, the trigger for investigation is reporting, most of which issues from mandated reporters. All 50 United States have laws that mandate reporting by anyone whose professional work brings them into routine contact with children. Almost 40 professions are designated mandated reporters, including teachers, law enforcement personnel, firefighters, health care professionals, social services providers, and child care workers. In 18 states any competent adult is designated a mandated reporter. All in all, laws require more than 70 million individuals to report child abuse.

Patton (2011) points out that even though the 1997 act reduced the time within which dependent children placed outside the home would remain in temporary placements and increased the number of adoptions, it has also created new problems. First, the federal adoption subsidy program has convinced many potential foster parents to become adoptive parents, thus reducing the number of temporary placements for abused children. The adoption subsidy has also driven social service agencies toward decisions to sever parental rights in close cases, rather than continuing family reunification and temporary foster placements. Another consequence of this legislation is that this new rush to permanent adoption has been detrimental to sibling relationships. Most state statutory schemes do not recognize that significant sibling bonds are a sufficient reason to continue temporary placements, rather than splitting siblings into different adoptive homes.

On the other hand, prior to the 1997 act, dependent children often lived with many different foster families in different neighborhoods and lacked any continuity in their formal education, either with teachers or with curricula. This educational discontinuity results in a continuing introduction and departure of new and different friends and teachers, inadequate transfer of educational records, and lost academic credit. Furthermore, 60% of children in foster care have measurable behavior or mental health problems and approximately 35 -- 45% have developmental problems. It is imperative that children with disabilities receive the services they are entitled to in order to meet their needs and prepare them for employment and independent living (Patton, 2011).

Conclusion

Though child abuse is still a significant issue, Prevent Child Abuse America (NDI) recommends ten ways simple things individuals and parents can do help to curtail the numbers. 1) Be a nurturing parent, children need to know they are special, loved, and capable of following their dreams. 2) Help a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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