Academic journal article Child Welfare

Psychological Maltreatment: The Response of Quebec Child Protection Services

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Psychological Maltreatment: The Response of Quebec Child Protection Services

Article excerpt

Psychological maltreatment (PM) of children is defined as "Acts of omission and commission which are judged on the basis of a combination of community standards and professional expertise to be psychologically damaging. Such acts are committed by individuals, singly or collectively, who, by their characteristics (e.g., age, status, knowledge, organizational form) are in a position of differential power that renders a child vulnerable. Such acts damage immediately or ultimately the behavioral, cognitive, affective, or physical functioning of the child" (Hart, Brassard, & Karlson, 1996, p. 73). These acts can take many forms, including "denigration, terrorizing, isolation, exploitation and corruption, ignorance of emotional needs, and negligence of basic educational, psychological, or medical needs" (Hart, Brassard, Binggeli, & Davidson, 2002). Most of these direct forms of PM are specified in the Quebec Youth Protection Act (YPA) of 2007, which also cites indirect forms, such as child exposure to spousal or domestic violence.

PM is one of the most frequent types of maltreatment experienced by children (Egeland, Sroufe, & Erickson, 1983; Glaser, 2011). However, lack of consistency in how PM is conceived, defined, and measured makes inter-country comparisons difficult in terms of its prevalence. For example, in the United States, a recent national report states that PM represents only 6% of maltreatment cases reported to child protection services and substantiated (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2016). By contrast, in Australia, PM accounts for 43% of all cases, making it the most common form of child maltreatment (Australian Government, 2016). In England, emotional abuse is reported as the second most common form of maltreatment in child protection cases, just after neglect (UK Department of Education, 2010). In France, according to a recent report by l'Observatoire national de la protection de lenfance (National Observatory for the Protection of Children) (ONPE, 2016), psychological violence accounts for more than one third of situations endangering the safety or well-being of French children between the years 2010 and 2014, and is more frequent than physical violence, sexual violence or heavy negligence. Figures for Canada and Quebec are of the same order. Specifically, the Canadian Incidence Study, conducted in 2008 with a sample of children aged 0 to 15 reported to child protection services for all Canadian provinces and territories with the exception of Quebec, showed that 8.7% of substantiated cases involved psychological violence, while 34.2% involved children exposed to spousal violence (Trocmé et al., 2010). Similar studies have been conducted independently in Quebec because of the particularities of the Quebec Youth Protection Act in comparison with the legislation of other provinces and territories. The last Quebec study, conducted in 2014, reported 14.2% of substantiated cases involving PM and 21.0% involving exposure to spousal violence. Furthermore, in this study, PM and exposure to spousal violence had increased since 1998, while neglect and sexual abuse had decreased (Hélie, Collin-Vézina, Trocmé, Turcotte, & Girouard, 2017.) While it may occur in isolation, PM is known to accompany other forms of abuse and neglect (Glaser, 2011). Recently, some have even suggested that it is inherent in all other forms of maltreatment (Hart & Glaser, 2011), of which it constitutes the most harmful component (de la Vega, de la Osa, Ezpeleta, Granero, & Domenech, 2011; Hart et al., 2002; O'Dougherty Wright, 2007). The study by Egeland and colleagues (1983) revealed that emotional neglect is more damaging than are sexual abuse, physical neglect, or a combination of physical and psychological abuse. For older children and adolescents, more studies have shown specific negative socio-emotional, interpersonal, socio-cognitive, and behavioral effects (Hart et al., 1996; Solomon & Serres, 1999). …

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