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The staff at The Children’s Place have been recognized for their expertise and knowledge with respect to child abuse, neglect and trauma and its effect on young children.  Below are pieces written by the staff that may be of assistance to you as you develop your story on abuse, neglect or trauma.  If you would like to speak to a staff member please contact:

Amy Wickstrom
Vice President of Development and Communication
wickstroma@tcpkc.org or (816) 363-1898

Learn more below.
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Childhood Neglect

Child neglect is the most common type of child maltreatment. Unfortunately, neglect frequently goes unreported and historically has not been acknowledged or publicized as greatly as child abuse. However, the effects of neglect can be just as detrimental. Studies have shown that neglect can be more harmful to children’s early brain development than incidences of physical or sexual abuse.

Neglect is any act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caregiver to provide needed, age- appropriate care, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, abuse exploitation, or something that presents an imminent risk of serious harm. There are four main categories of neglect: Physical Neglect, Educational Neglect, Emotional/Psychological Neglect, and Medical Neglect.

Physical: accounts for the majority of cases of maltreatment. Physical neglect generally involves the parent or caregiver not providing the child with basic needs (e.g. food, clothing, and shelter).
Educational: involves the failure of a parent or caregiver to enroll a school age child in school, or provide appropriate home schooling or needed special education.

Emotional/Psychological: is more difficult to assess than other types of neglect, but is thought to have more severe, long-lasting effects than physical neglect. It often occurs with other forms of neglect or abuse (which may be easier to identify). This includes actions such as: allowing the child to witness continual or extreme domestic violence, allowing child to use drugs or alcohol, constantly putting child down or withholding affection.
Medical Neglect: is the denial or delay of a parent or caregiver in seeking needed healthcare for a child.

The following are possible signs of neglect.
If a child:

  • Consistently wears soiled clothing, or clothing that is really big or small
  • Consistently not dressed correctly for weather
  • Always seems hungry; hoards, steals or begs for food
  • Has poor hygiene
  • Has unattended medical or dental problems
  • States that there is no one at home to provide care

 The impact of neglect on a child may not be apparent at an early stage (except in extreme cases). However, the effects of neglect are harmful and possibly long lasting for the victims.  The impact of neglect can vary based on: the child’s age, the frequency, duration and severity of the neglect, the presence of buffers, and the relationship between the child and caregiver. The impact can become more severe as a child grows older and can include problems with: health and physical development, intellectual and cognitive development, as well as emotional, social and behavioral development.

References: www.americanhumane.org, www.childwelfare.gov

Trauma and Children

Trauma is the serious injury to a person’s physical or emotional state as a result of an accident, violence or some other anticipated situation. Physical trauma alters the body in a serious way. Psychological trauma typically occurs as the mind is overwhelmed by the frightening thoughts and painful feelings associated with an event(s). Psychological trauma can also produce extreme behavior; such as intense fear, helplessness, withdrawal or detachment, lack of concentration, irritability, sleep disturbance, aggression, hyper vigilance (intensely watching for more distressing events), or flashbacks (sense that the traumatic event is reoccurring).

How does a child handle trauma? There are two ways of handling an upsetting experience. Ideally, the child will go through the memories, thoughts and feelings over and over, little by little, until the brain makes sense of the experience and the thoughts are no longer as disturbing or powerful. However, some experiences are so upsetting and overwhelming; the child tries to push the thoughts out of the way. This strategy may provide temporary relief, but when the memory is not worked through, it maintains its disturbing power. Unfortunately, the more the child avoids facing the memory, the more it will impact their thoughts and eventually their behavior.

Some children experience complex trauma, or exposure to multiple traumatic events or prolonged exposure to overwhelming situations, which ultimately impacts their development.  These children may also have lived in situations where adults were not able to create a haven of safety and security, which ultimately impacts the child’s ability to create healthy relationships in the future.  Often the exposure to complex trauma also impacts the child’s ability to regulate their emotions effectively.

When a child experiences a traumatic event or loss, it may be possible to notice some changes. Changes could be seen in the child’s attitude, mood, or behavior. Children’s natural feelings of sadness, fear, anger, guilt, and helplessness can be expressed in a variety of ways, some of which might not seem to make sense. One child may argue more, become clingy, have trouble getting to sleep, and have bad dreams. Another child might react completely differently, becoming quiet, withdrawn, anxious, angry, irritable and sad.

References:

Child Trauma Institute: www.childtrauma.com

National Institute of Mental Health: www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network:  www.nctsnet.org

Domestic Violence Impact

Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behaviors used to coercively control another person.  These behaviors may include physical assault, threats of harm, acts of intimidation and psychologically abusive behaviors. Anywhere between three and 10 million children in the United States are exposed to domestic violence every year and it impacts children in all social economic groups, all ethnicities, and all races.

Studies also suggest the majority of children who are exposed to domestic violence are under the age of eight.  Young children do not need to understand what is occurring to have emotional and physical reactions. The heart rates of very young children will go up in response to the sound of an adult screaming and crying.  Unfortunately, this hyper-arousal may not end after the screaming stops.

Children exposed to domestic violence often experience confusion and contradictory feelings about their parents.  Often children feel torn over loyalties and caught in the middle of the parental conflict.  The child may worry about the safety of the abused parent and fear the parents will not be able to protect them.   Young children who witness domestic violence often worry about one of their caretakers and may be afraid to be separated as they fear something will happen to the adult while the child is gone.  Children may express their distress through physical symptoms, such as stomachaches and headaches.

Domestic violence can affect a child’s view of the rest of the world, and make generalizations about the world being a scary, dangerous and unpredictable place.  A child with such perceptions is more likely to expect any disagreement will end in physical violence because it is what they have seen, experienced, or learned as a way to handle conflict.   Not all children become aggressive, some may withdraw and isolate out of fear and as a way to survive.

The effects of domestic violence may include anxiety, depression, aggression, difficulty sleeping and trouble paying attention in school.  Traumatic stress reactions are common in children exposed to domestic violence.  These traumatized children are more fearful, jumpy and nervous, having reoccurring thoughts or sensations related to the trauma, and avoid any reminders of the trauma.  This may cause the child to withdraw from normal activities.

References
Jouriles, EN, McDonald, R, Norwood, WD & Ezell, E. (2001) Issues and controversies in documenting the prevalence of children’s exposure to domestic violence. In S.A. Graham-Bermann & J.L. Eldeson (Eds.) Domestic violence in the lives of children: The future of research, intervention, and social policy (pp.13-34). Washington: American Psychological Association.

Corporal Punishment

What is corporal punishment exactly?  The Webster Dictionary defines it as physical punishment that involves the deliberate infliction of pain as retribution for an offense or for the purpose of defining or reforming a wrongdoer or to deter attitudes or behavior deemed inappropriate.  Corporal punishment is divided into three main types: domestic, school and judicial.  Domestic corporal punishment of children or teenagers by their parents is usually referred to as spanking, whipping, whooping, smacking or slapping.  In the United States domestic corporal punishment is legal; however in some countries like Sweden it is illegal. In the United   States there are some situations where it is prohibited.  In both Kansas and Missouri, corporal punishment between foster parents and their foster children is prohibited.

Proponents of corporal punishment state that it offers advantages over other forms of discipline: quicker to implement, costs nothing; deters unruly behavior. They point out that when corporal punishment is used responsibly to punish wrong doing it teaches children moral differences between right and wrong.

Opponents of corporal punishment argue that spanking is a form of violence and therefore by definition is considered abuse.  Some opponents claim that often child abuse begins with a spanking and as a parent becomes accustomed to using corporal punishment to respond to a child’s unwanted behavior, they cross the line and use corporal punishment as a way to relieve their own frustrations with a child’s behavior.  The AmericanAcademy of Pediatrics (AAP) believes that corporal punishment “polarizes the parent-child relationship.”  The AAP policy statement says “the only way to maintain the initial effect of spanking is to systematically increase the intensity with which delivered, which can quickly escalate into abuse”.

Some researchers believe that corporal punishment does typically produce immediate compliance; however it actually works against its objective over the long term. Some psychological research claims that children subjected to corporal punishment may grow up shy, insecure or violent.  Research also shows that corporal punishment is linked to other negative outcomes including increased rates of aggression, delinquency, mental health problems and ongoing problems in relationship with their parents.

Corporal punishment’s effectiveness has been questioned by many ranging from pediatricians, therapists, criminologists and parents.  The debate started in the late 17th century and actively continues today.