UNDERSTANDING CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT
By the Panel on Research on Child Abuse and Neglect, National Research Council. National Academy Press, 2101 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20418. 1993, 408 pp., $44.95 (hardbound).
This impressive and broad-reaching report, commissioned by the Administration on Children, Youth and Families and conducted by an expert panel coordinated by the National Research Council, is about knowledge gaps in regard to child abuse and neglect as well as shortcomings in policies and resources allocated to redress those gaps. The report should have been called A Research Agenda for Child Abuse and Neglect or A Science Policy for Child Abuse and Neglect, at least in that part of the title that follows a colon. As a reference for proposal writers who use the background material in their introductions, it is very valuable. Despite the hefty price, more than 2,000 copies have been sold. For the average practitioner, many will find the report rough going, as much of it requires a working background in the issues being presented.
The report is divided into the following four sections on priorities in child maltreatment research.
1. Clarify the nature and scope of child maltreatment, guided by well-developed research definitions and instrumentation. (p. 30)
There are no standard, commonly accepted definitions of child abuse and neglect. There is no diagnostic manual for child maltreatment equivalent to DSM-IV in mental health. As a result, it is difficult to compare studies or aggregate their results. Even if researchers adhere to the commonly used categories of physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and emotional abuse, problems arise. In the state of Washington, prenatal exposure to alcohol and other drugs is considered a dangerous act and, therefore, physical abuse. In Illinois, it is prima facie evidence of neglect. In many municipalities, prenatal exposure to alcohol and other drugs is not reportable as child maltreatment. Relying solely on definitions derived from child protective service categories can obscure multiple incidents of child maltreatment and make comparisons of groups unreliable.
2. Provide an understanding of the origins and consequences of child maltreatment in order to better inform theories regarding its etiology and to establish a foundation for improving the quality of future policy and program efforts to address this problem. (p. 30)
The report advocates a child-oriented, ecological, an developmental perspective to examine both risk and protective factors that best contribute to or moderate the incidence and consequences of child maltreatment. …