Child Abuse and Neglect
By Leah Davies, M.Ed.
Although federal legislation provides basic guidelines
for definitions of child abuse and neglect, each state has specific laws.
State statutes describe abuse in terms of "harm or threatened harm" to
a child and mandate when to intervene. Exemptions vary in each state
but can include religious exemption, corporal punishment, poverty, and
cultural practices. States usually provide separate definitions for different
types of abuse and neglect. It is important for educators to become familiar
with the statutes of their state.
Being abused and/or neglected can have a long-term negative impact upon children.
They have an increased risk of being developmentally delayed and experiencing
social and emotional difficulties. Abused children are more likely than the
general population to use drugs, become violent, and engage in delinquent behavior.
Educators are mandated by law to report suspected cases to the local child
protective services agency or to the police department. Since abused and neglected
children are represented in most classrooms, teachers and other school employees
need to become aware of the signs of abuse. However, one indication is usually
not enough; a cluster of symptoms needs to be observed before a report is made.
Dated, written observations of concerns for a child are extremely helpful when
General indicators that a child may be abused or neglected are early arrival
at school and/or requests to stay late, poor impulse control, extreme sadness,
rigidity, sleepiness, and/or destructiveness toward self, others or animals.
These children often seem unable to trust others or to concentrate. Distinct
changes in behavior, character and/or school performance are also signs of
Abusive parents or caregivers tend to have unrealistic expectations for the
child, deny the existence of difficulties, or blame the school or teacher for
the child's problems. They may show little concern for their child, request
harsh discipline, and/or isolate him or her. Observing extreme parental overprotectiveness
or harshness can provide additional information concerning the possibility
Forms of Neglect and Abuse
Neglect of a child means failing to provide for his or her basic needs. Neglect
can be physical, educational or psychological. Physical needs involve providing
food, clothing, medical care, and supervision. Suspect physical neglect when
these needs are not being met, and when a child is absent often, begs for or
steals food or other items, and/or appears unkempt. Educational neglect is
defined in some states as occurring when no schooling or special education
needs are provided by the parents or caregivers. Psychological neglect occurs
when love and support are withheld, when children are exposed to spousal mistreatment,
or when alcohol or other drugs are abused and/or are available to a child.
Physical abuse occurs when an adult intentionally inflicts physical injury
upon a child. It includes punching, shaking, kicking, burning, beating, or
otherwise physically hurting a child. Active children acquire some injuries
through play that are mostly over bony areas such as knees, elbows, and shins.
If a child has injuries on other parts of the body, i.e. black eyes, bite marks,
burns, bruises, welts, swelling and/or broken bones, they are more likely to
indicate abuse. Additionally, if parents give conflicting or unconvincing explanations
for their child's injuries or the child does not receive needed medical attention,
physical maltreatment needs to be considered.
Emotional abuse happens when adults thwart a child's mental health and/or his
or her social, emotional and/or cognitive development. It may include using
extreme or bizarre forms of punishment, such as locking the child in a closet
or tying him or her to furniture for a long periods of time. Emotional abuse
also includes constantly disparaging a child or blaming him or her for family
problems. For additional understanding of the emotionally abused child see Emotional
Abuse of Children.
Sexual abuse is inappropriate sexual behavior between a child and an older
person. It includes intercourse, sodomy, oral sex, fondling, prostitution,
group sex, pornography, and forcing a child to observe sexual acts. For detailed
information concerning sexual abuse and what to do if you suspect it see Helping
the Sexually Abused Child.
Child abuse and neglect occur in all socioeconomic classes, but families are
at greater risk if the caregivers or parents were abused. Groups such as a
Parents Anonymous can provide help for abusive adults who want to change their
School personnel have the responsibility to report abuse not only to protect
the child, but to stop the cycle of abused children possibly becoming abusive
parents. Since schools are often the only place these children go other than
their homes, educators play an indispensable role as reporters and protectors
of abused or neglected children in their community.
Used by permission of the author, Leah Davies, and selected from the Kelly Bear website [www.kellybear.com]. 3/04
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