Child abuse is the intentional omission of care by a parent or guardian that can cause a
child to be hurt, maimed, or even killed. Child abuse can be either physical, mental,
emotional or sexual. Because of child abuse, Caprice Ried will never do the things that a
normal four-year old does. She will never play on a playground, or go to a sleepover, and
never go to school. All of this was taken away from her at such a young age, when she
died of child abuse. The foster parents, Patricia Coker, and her mother Betty Coker have
been charged with second degree murder for Caprices death. Caprice went without food
for days. She was also tied to a chair and beaten with a stick until she couldnt walk.
Several days later, she was found dead.
As horrible as this story seems, this scene happens way to often. In 1996,
approximately 3,126,000 children were reported for child abuse. Currently, about 47 out
of every 1,000 children are reported as victims of child abuse and maltreatment.
Overall, child abuse reporting levels have increased 45% between 1987 and 1996.
In 1996, an estimated 1,046 child abuse and neglect related fatalities were
confirmed by Child Protective Services, (CPS) agencies. Since 1985, the rate of child
abuse fatalities has increased by 20%. Based on these numbers, more than three children
die each day as a result of child abuse or neglect.
In 1996, some states reported that almost 77% of these children that died were
less than five years old at the time of their death, while 45% were under 1 year of age.
The causes of death were 45% neglect, 52% physical abuse, 3% from a combination of
neglect and physical abuse. Studies of the general population show that anywhere from
6% to 63% of women were sexually abused as children. A 1985 L.A. Times national
survey found that 27% of women and 16% of men reported being sexually abused prior
to age 18. The true extent of sexual abuse in unknown.
The relationship between parental alcohol or other drug problems and child
maltreatment is becoming increasingly evident. And the risk to the child increases in a
single parent household where there is no supporting adult to diffuse parental stress and
protect the child from the effects of the parents problem.
Both alcohol and drug problems are widespread in this country. Almost 14
million adult Americans abuse alcohol. The number of illicit drug users exceeds 12
million. Illicit drugs include marijuana, cocaine, inhalants, hallucinogens, heroin, and
non-medical use of psychotherapeutics. With more than 6.6 million children under the
age of 18 living in alcoholic households, and an additional number of children living in
households where parents have problems with illicit drugs, a significant number of
children in this country are being raised by addicted parents.
Child maltreatment has become a national epidemic. More than one million
children are confirmed each year as victims of child abuse and neglect by state child
protective service agencies. Every day at least three children die as a result of abuse or
neglect. State child welfare records indicate that substance abuse is one of the top two
problems exhibited by families in 81% of the reported cases.
Recent research on the connection between alcohol or drug problems and child
maltreatment clearly indicates a connection between the two problems. Among
confirmed cases of child maltreatment, 40% involve the use of alcohol or other drugs.
This suggests that of the 1.2 million confirmed victims of child maltreatment, and
estimated 480,000 children are mistreated each year by a caretaker with alcohol or other
drug problems. Additionally, research suggests that alcohol and other drug problems are
factors in a majority of cases of emotional abuse and neglect. In fact, neglect is the
major reason that children are removed from a home in which parents have alcohol or
other drug problems. Children in these homes suffer from a variety of physical, mental,
and emotional health problems at a greater rate than children in the general population.
Children of alcoholics suffer more injuries and poisonings than children in the general
population. Alcohol and other substances may act as disinhibitors, lessening impulse
control and allowing parents to behave abusively. Children in this environment often
demonstrate behavioral problems and are diagnosed as having conduct disorders. This
may result in provocative behavior. Increased stress resulting from preoccupation with
drugs on the part of the parent combined with behavioral problems exhibited by the child
adds to the likelihood of maltreatment.
Histories of parents with alcohol and drug problems or parents involved in child
maltreatment reveal that typically both were reared with a lack of parental nurturing and
appropriate modeling and often grew up in disruptive homes. Family life in these
households also have similarities. The children often lack guidance, positive role
modeling, and live in isolation. Frequently, they suffer from depression, anxiety, and low
self-esteem. They live in an atmosphere of stress and family conflict. Children raised in
both kinds of households are more likely to have problems with alcohol and other drugs
Pregnant women who use alcohol may bear children suffering from fetal alcohol
syndrome (FAS). FAS is the leading known environmental cause of mental retardation
in the western world. Each year 4,000 to 12,000 babies are born with the physical signs
and intellectual disabilities associated with FAS, and thousands more experience the
somewhat lesser disabilities of the fetal alcohol effects.
Children of alcoholics are more likely than children in the general population to
suffer a variety of physical, emotional, and mental health problems. Similar to
maltreatment victims who believe that the abuse is their fault, children of alcoholics feel
guilty and responsible for their parents drinking problem. Both groups of children often
have feelings of low self-esteem and failure and suffer from depression and anxiety. It is
thought that exposure to violence in both alcohol abusing and child maltreating
households increases the likelihood that the children will commit and be recipients of
acts of violence. Additionally, the effects of child maltreatment and parental alcohol
abuse dont end when the children reach adulthood. Both groups of children are likely to
have difficulty with coping and establishing healthy relationships as adults. In addition
to suffering from all the effects of living in a household where alcohol or child
maltreatment are illegal. While research is in its infancy, clinical evidence shows that
children of parents who have problem with illicit drug use may suffer from an inability to
trust legitimate authority because of fear of discovery of a parents illegal habits.
Some individuals can and do break the cycle of abuse. These resilient children
share some characteristics that lead to their successful coping skills such as ability to
obtain positive attention from other people, adequate communication skills, average
intelligence, a caring attitude, a desire to achieve, a belief in self-help. Additionally, the
involvement of a caring adult can help children develop resiliency and break the cycle of
abuse. However, a significant number of individuals fall victim to the same patterns
exhibited by their parents. Those who have been severely physically abused often have
symptoms of post-traumatic disorder and dissociation. Individuals suffering from mental
health disorders may use alcohol and illicit drugs to decrease or mitigate their
psychological distress. Research suggests that adults who were abused as children may
be more likely to abuse their own children than adults who were not abused as children.
One explanation for the continuing cycle is the secrecy, denial, and stigma
involved in both problems. Many child maltreatment cases do not get reported and many
children of alcoholics go unidentified. Within both populations, victims often are afraid
to speak up because they do not think anyone will believe them. Often they do not
realize that what seems to be normal behavior is indeed maltreatment, and learn to repeat
these behaviors unconsciously. The lack of positive parental role modeling and lack of
development of coping skills increases the difficulty of establishing healthy relationships
as an adult. It may not be until they seek help disturbed adults that they are made
cognizant of the root of their emotional problems.
Research has shown that when families exhibit both of these behaviors
(alcohol/drugs and child maltreatment), the problems must be treated simultaneously in
order to insure a childs safety. Although ending the drug dependency does not
automatically end child maltreatment, very little can be done to improve parenting skills
until this step is taken. It should be noted that the withdrawal experienced by parents
who cease using alcohol or other drugs presents specific risks. The effects of withdrawal
often cause a parent to experience intense emotions, which may increase the likelihood
of child maltreatment. During this time, lasting as long as two years, it is especially
important that resources be available to the family.
In 1995, an estimated 1,2115 child maltreatment deaths were confirmed
by child protective services (CPS) agencies. This figure undercounts the actual number
of maltreatment fatalities, however, as some number of accidental deaths, child
homicides, SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) cases and deaths attributed to
underestimated causes should be labeled child maltreatment fatalities. According to a
1993 study, and estimated 85% of deaths due to parental maltreatment were coded as due
to some other cause on the childs death certificate.
Over three children dies each day last year as a result of parental maltreatment. A
national survey conducted by the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse (NCPCA)
early in 1995 suggests that the number of confirmed child abuse fatalities increased 39%
over the last 10 years. This trend is not surprising given the increase in poverty,
substance abuse, and violence experienced by many communities.
Based on the data collected from 37 states and the District of Columbia, a little
over 3 million children were reported for child abuse in 1995, approximately 2% more
than had been reported in 1994. Overall, child abuse reporting rates have risen by an
average of 4% each year between 1990 and 1995. The total number of reports has
increased nationwide by 49% since 1986.
Young children are at the highest risk of dying from maltreatment. Research
indicates that between 1993 and 1995, 85% of fatalities occurred to children under the
age of five, when 45% of children under the age of one. Other studies have found that
child abuse ranks as the second leading cause of death, after accidents, for children
between the ages of one and five years old.
It is difficult to pinpoint one main cause for all fatalities attributed to child
maltreatment. Between 1993 and 1995, 37% of all fatalities were the result of neglect,
48% from abuse, and 15% as a result of both forms of maltreatment. As a result, a few
factors related to these fatalities seem to present themselves year after year. According to
a 1995 report by NCPCA, states reported that substance abuse, by the abuser, was
involved in anywhere from 4% to 65% of all substantiated cases. Additionally, 46% of
children who died between 1993 and 1995 had prior or recent contact with CPS agencies.
This may signify that these are the only deaths that are investigated by many states. As a
result, we can expect that a high percentage of reported deaths involve such children.
Also, however, there is much difficulty in providing sufficient services to all victims
which may also contribute to child maltreatment fatalities.
Improving the ability of child protective services agencies to assist their clients by
reducing caseloads, expanding training of caseworkers, and funding more treatment
services for victims will help reduce fatalities. Child protective services, however,
cannot prevent all fatalities single-handedly. Other formal institutions such as schools
and hospitals as well as informal, personal networks should play an active role in
identifying and assembling families at risk of abusive or neglectful behavior. Finally,
alcohol and drug treatment services need to be expanded and made more accessible to
pregnant and parenting women.
One of the most promising prevention strategies for reducing early childhood
injuries is the provision of comprehensive home health visitors to all expectant and new
mothers, or at the very least, to mothers in high risk neighborhoods. In 1991, NCPCA
introduced Healthy Families America, a comprehensive home visiting initiative. Such
services offer instruction and support regarding prenatal care, parenting skills, household
management, and coping with environmental dangers. As a 1996 report on Hawaiis
Healthy Start home visitation program concluded, home visiting produces measurable
benefits for participants in the areas of parental attitudes toward children, parent-child
interaction patterns, and type and quantity of child maltreatment. Evaluations of other
home visitation programs also are underway, specifically evaluations of Healthy Families
America sites. Its form of primary prevention demonstrates not only a social
commitment to a childs well being from the point of birth, but also a strong commitment
to the welfare of society.
The NCPCA is committed to preventing child abuse before it occurs. Since child
maltreatment is a complex problem with a multitude of causes, an approach to
prevention must respond to a range of needs. Therefore, NCPCA has designed a
comprehensive strategy comprised of a variety of community-based programs to prevent
child abuse. Reflective of the phases of the family life cycle, this approach provides
parents and children with the education and support necessary for healthy family
functioning. Based on what is known or believed to enhance an individuals ability to
function within the family unit, several program areas offer a continuum of educational,
supportive and therapeutic services for parents and children enduring throughout the
school years. Although a community may not choose to offer services in all program
areas, as a group they respond to the needs of all family members.
In conclusion, I usually feel that there are pros and cons about everything. But I
cannot find one pro in child abuse. I feel that child abuse is one of the worst crimes in
the world today. Child abuse hurts and kills so many helpless children. Many adults take
their frustrations out on them and when they realize what they are doing is wrong, their
children have either been seriously hurt, have turn against them, or could have even been
killed. Child abuse is a chain that rarely broken. When children are abused, they learn to
do the same to their children. When a child does actually break the chain, they can still
have emotional problems as adults.
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