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Child Abuse - More Information


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More information on Child Abuse

A child may be subjected to one or more forms of abuse at any given time

The severity of a sign does not necessarily equate with the severity of the abuse. Severe and potentially fatal injuries are not always visible. Emotional or psychological abuse tends to be cumulative and effects may only be observable in the longer term. Signs or indicators of abuse should be gently explored with the child; explanations which are inconsistent with the signs should constitute a cause for concern.

Some signs of abuse are more indicative than others - these include:

(i) disclosure of abuse and neglect by a child or young person;

(ii) age-inappropriate or abnormal sexual play or knowledge;

(iii) specific injuries or patterns of injuries;

(iv) absconding from home or a care situation;

(v) attempted suicide;

(vi) under-age pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease;

(vii) signs in one or more categories at the same time. For example, signs of developmental delay, physical injury and behavioral signs may together indicate a pattern of abuse.

Neglect is as potentially fatal as physical abuse. It can cause delayed physical, psychological and emotional development, chronic ill-health and significant long-term damage. It may also precede, or co-exist with, other forms of abuse and must be treated seriously.

Child abuse is not restricted to any socio-economic group, gender or culture. All signs must be considered in the wider social and family context. However serious deficits in child safety and welfare transcend cultural, social and ethnic norms and must elicit a response.
 

1. Physical Abuse: Additional information on MSP.

Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy: This is a condition where parents, usually the mother (according to current research and case experience), fabricate stories of illness about their child or cause physical signs of illness. This can occur where the parent secretly administers dangerous drugs or other poisonous substances to the child or by smothering. The symptoms which alert to the possibility of Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy include the following:

(i) symptoms which cannot be explained by any medical tests; symptoms never observed by anyone other than the caregiver; symptoms reported to occur only at home or when a parent visits a child in hospital;

(ii) high level of demand for investigations of symptoms without any documented physical signs;

(iii) unexplained problems with medical treatment such as drips coming out and lines being interfered with;

(iv) presence of un-prescribed medication or poisons in the blood or urine.
 

2. Child Sexual Abuse: Many experts believe that sexual abuse is the most under-reported form of child maltreatment because of the secrecy or conspiracy of silence that so often characterizes these cases. See our online brochure ‘Child Sexual Explained (for concerned parents) here

Sexual abuse occurs when a child is used by another person for his or her gratification or sexual arousal or for that of others. Further examples of child sexual abuse include the following: 

(i) exposure of the sexual organs or any sexual act intentionally performed in the presence of the child;

(ii) intentional touching or molesting of the body of a child whether by a person or object for the purpose of the sexual arousal or gratification;

(iii) masturbation in the presence of the child or the involvement of the child in an act of masturbation;

(iv) sexual intercourse with the child whether oral, vaginal, or anal;

(v) Sexual exploitation of a child includes inciting, encouraging propositioning, requiring or permitting a child to solicit for, or to engage in, prostitution or other sexual acts. Sexual exploitation also occurs when a child is involved in the exhibition, modeling or posing for the purpose of sexual arousal, gratification or sexual act, including its recording (on film, video tape or other media) or the manipulation, for those purposes, of the image by computer or other means. It may also include showing sexually explicit material to children which is often a feature of the “grooming” process by perpetrators of abuse.
 

3. Neglect: Further examples of neglect includes the failure to provide adequate food, clothing, or hygiene. Not meeting a child's need for cleanliness, clothing, emotional support, love and affection, education, nutritious food, clothing, adequate shelter or safety; Leaving a child unwatched; Leaving a child in an unsafe place or causing a child to be in a dangerous situation or place; Not seeking necessary medical or dental attention for a child; Not having a child attend school; Not seeking special services for children in need of educational support. An example of emotional neglect would be inadequate nurturing or affection.

Harm can be defined as the ill-treatment or the impairment of the health or development of a child.

Neglect generally becomes apparent in different ways over a period of time rather than at one specific point. For instance, a child who suffers a series of minor injuries is not having his or her needs met for supervision and safety. A child whose ongoing failure to gain weight or whose height is significantly below average may be being deprived of adequate nutrition. A child who consistently misses school may be being deprived of intellectual stimulation. The threshold of significant harm is reached when the child's needs are neglected to the extent that his or her well-being and/or development are severely affected. 
 

4. Emotional or Psychological Abuse: Emotional abuse is more than just verbal abuse. It is an attack on a child's emotional and social development, and is a basic threat to healthy human development.

Emotional abuse can take many forms includes verbal abuse, withholding affection, belittling, extreme punishment and corruption, ignoring, rejecting, terrorizing, and isolating. It may also entail the abuser minimizing, or downplaying the severity of abuse along with the act of invalidation. Invalidation is to reject, ignore, mock, tease, judge, or diminish someone's feelings. It is an attempt to control how they feel and for how long they feel it.

Emotional abuse is normally to be found in the relationship between a care-giver and a child rather than in a specific event or pattern of events. It occurs when a child's need for affection, approval, consistency and security are not met. Unless other forms of abuse are present, it is rarely manifested in terms of physical signs or symptoms. Examples of emotional abuse of children include:

(i) the imposition of negative attributes on children, expressed by persistent
criticism, sarcasm, hostility or blaming;

(ii) conditional parenting in which the level of care shown to a child is made contingent on his or her behaviors or actions;

(iii) emotional unavailability by the child’s parent or caregiver;

(iv) unresponsiveness, inconsistent, or inappropriate expectations of the child;

(v) premature imposition of responsibility on the child;

(vi) unrealistic or inappropriate expectations of the child's capacity to understand something or to behave and control himself in a certain way;

(vii) Under or over-protection of the child;

(viii) Failure to show interest in, or provide age-appropriate opportunities for,
the child’s cognitive and emotional development;

(ix) use of unreasonable or over-harsh disciplinary measures;

(x) exposure to domestic violence.

Emotional abuse can be manifested in terms of the child's behavioral, cognitive, affective or physical functioning. Examples of these include: 'anxious' attachment, non-organic failure to thrive, unhappiness, low self-esteem, educational and developmental underachievement, and oppositional behavior. The threshold of significant harm is reached when abusive interactions dominate and become typical of the relationship between the child and the parent or care-giver.
 

Children with Special Vulnerabilities
Certain children are more vulnerable to abuse than others. These include children with disabilities and special needs. In addition children who, for one reason or another, are separated from parents or other family members and who depend on others for their care and protection - foster care, hospitalizations, institutions etc. The same categories of abuse - neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse - may be applicable, but may take a slightly different form. For example, abuse may take the form of deprivation of basic rights, harsh disciplinary regimes or the inappropriate use of physical constraints.

 

Challenging behavior by a child or young person should not render them liable to abuse. Children in certain circumstances may present management problems. This should not leave them vulnerable to harsh disciplinary measures or neglect of care.

It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between indicators of child abuse and other adversities suffered by children and families. Deprivation, stress or mental health problems should not be used as a justification for omissions of care or commissions of harm by parents or caregiver. The child’s welfare must be the primary consideration.
 

[With special thanks to the National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children
2004 Irish Department of Health and Children]

 

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