Academic journal article Social Work

The Child -Centered Social Worker and the Sexually Abused Child: Pathway to Healing

Academic journal article Social Work

The Child -Centered Social Worker and the Sexually Abused Child: Pathway to Healing

Article excerpt

Despite recent studies suggesting that rates of child sexual abuse have decreased markedly (Jones & Finkelhor, 2001), the number of children estimated to be victims of child sexual abuse is formidable. A national estimate suggested that 3.2 children per 1,000 are victimized annually (Sedlak & Broadhurst, 1996). Although every victimized child is not reported to child protection services, the number of children reported has increased dramatically. (Bierker, 1989; Finkelhor, 1979, 1984; Patterson, 1992; Sas, Wolfe, & Gowdey, 1996; Strand, 1994), as has the number of children who could serve as witnesses in court proceedings (Haugaard & Reppucci, 1988). For example, extrapolating data from New York State to the nation, Ceci and deBruyn (1993) estimated that 100,000 children could be involved in family court or criminal justice proceedings (1993).

Social workers have played an important part in the legal process and are attuned to developmental needs of children and their concerns. Moreover, social workers are recognized as experts in the area of child sexual abuse because they work with abused children more regularly than other professional groups (Mason, 1992). Increasingly, social workers are being called on by the legal system to provide information about the nature of sexual abuse and its impact on children (Wolfe, Sas, & Wilson, 1987). In addition, social workers have become more involved in efforts to educate the child about and facilitate their ability to participate in the courtroom processes (Doueck, Weston, Filbert, Beekhuis, & Redlich, 1997; Lipovsky, 1994).

Often, there may be two different social workers working with the same family, one providing therapy or treatment and the other--typically through the auspices of a victim witness program--helping the child and her family understand the court processes. (Because most victims of sexual abuse and their social workers are female, for the sake of consistency, this articles uses feminine pronouns. Masculine pronouns are used for alleged perpetrators). The victim-witness's social worker often has a case management function in that she is responsible for linkage among the various systems: medical, legal, protective, and therapeutic. Because the victim--witness's social worker may be called into the family situation long after the abuse has occurred and late in the legal process and because she is constrained by her role to help the child through criminal court proceedings, there can be a gap for the child between the therapeutic role of the clinical social worker and the system advocate role of the child victim soci al worker (see, for example, Doueck et al., 1997). Through an expansion of traditional clinical practice and an integration of a diversity of social work roles, including networker, broker, educator, and mediator, this gap can be bridged. Assuming an advanced generalist approach, which broadly recognizes that social workers intervene using more sophisticated role assumptions while attending to multiple and complex system demands (Schatz, Jenkins, & Sheafor, 1990), we refer in this article to the social work therapist, who encompasses the expanded role of practice and the advanced generalist approach, as a "child-centered social worker" or CCSW. We review the roles of the child-centered social worker and compare the functions with those of a more traditional clinical social worker.

Literature Review

The short-term and long-term negative effects of the sexual abuse of children are well-documented (Bowers, 1990; Briere, 1992; Linberg & Distad, 1985; Meiselman, 1978; Nelson, 1991; Sgroi, 1982). In addition, the very system set up to investigate and substantiate the abuse and to identify and punish the offender can further traumatize the child (Bauer, 1983; Berliner, 1985; Berliner & Stevens, 1980; Buildey, 1981; Conte, 1984b; DeFrancis, 1969; Finkelhor & Browne, 1985; Gagnon, 1965; King, Hunter, & Runyan, 1988; MacFarlane, 1978; Sgroi, 1982; Tedesco & Schnell, 1987). …

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