The Cost of Child Abuse and Neglect

Article excerpt

Editors note: The following is an excerpt from a presentation given by the author at ACA's Congress of Correction in St. Louis.

Marian Wright Edelman, director of the Children's Defense Fund in Washington, D.C., once told Parade magazine, "I feel I am the luckiest child in the world to have had a mother and father who lived, rather than just preached, their faith and family values--who taught their children that being honest was more important than being honored, and that faith was a safer and more enduring harbor than fame."

Most of us can say the same thing. We were lucky. We had parents who loved us and taught us the importance of a strong work ethic, a belief in the Golden Rule, a respect for others and a clear understanding of the difference between right and wrong.

Today, many children are being taught a very different value system. We have second and third generation families of substance abusers and offenders. Extended families are either nonexistent or not held in the same regard as they once were. The church is not a focal point. Because people are more transient, communities aren't stable. Neighbors don't look after each other. Money and possessions, regardless of how they are obtained, are primary motivators.

In 1994, an American child is abused or neglected every 13 seconds, born to an unwed mother every 26 seconds, born into poverty every 30 seconds, born to a teen mother every 59 seconds, arrested for a violent crime every five minutes and killed by guns every two hours.

Kids are being raised in a violent society and are becoming acclimated to violence as a way of life. A study titled "The Cycle of Violence" by Cathy Spatz Widom confirms what most of us in the field of corrections already know.

The study tracked 1,575 cases from childhood through young adulthood, comparing the arrest records of two groups: a study group of 908 substantiated cases of childhood abuse or neglect and a comparison group of 667 children, not officially recorded as abused or neglected, and matched to the study group according to sex, age, race and family socioeconomic status.

The study found that those who had been abused or neglected were:

* 53 percent more likely to be arrested as juveniles;

* 38 percent more likely to be arrested as adults;

* 38 percent more likely to be arrested for committing a violent crime.

The numbers for females alone are even more graphic: abused or neglected females were 77 percent more likely to be arrested.

A more troubling finding is that a child who is neglected is just as likely to be arrested for a violent crime. On a national basis, reports of neglect are three times as high as those for abuse. What's worse, unless there is neurological damage from the abuse, neglect has a longer term, more damaging impact to the development of a child.

Preliminary Phase II findings of Widom's study, based on follow-up interviews with 500 study and comparison group subjects, indicate other negative outcomes to be as common as delinquency and violent criminal behavior. These include:

* mental health problems (depression and suicide);

* educational problems (inadequate cognition, extremely low IQ, poor reading ability);

* health and safety issues (alcohol and drug problems); and

* occupational difficulties (unemployment or employment in low level service jobs). …