Child Maltreatment and High Risk Families

By Julie Taylor; Anne Lazenbatt | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Today child maltreatment is seen as a major and complex public health and social welfare problem, caused by a range of factors that involve the individual, the family and the community. Child abuse or neglect and general trauma, including the witnessing of domestic violence, are alarmingly common, and pose major threats and risks to child health and well-being (Scannapieco and Connell-Carrick, 2005). Such behaviour can alter normal child development and, without intervention, can have lifelong consequences (Flaherty et al., 2008) including death. Child abuse includes any type of maltreatment or harm inflicted on children and young people through interactions with adults (or older adolescents). These include, in decreasing level of frequency: neglect; physical abuse and non-accidental injury; emotional, psychological abuse or bullying; and sexual abuse (Radford et al., 2011). However, to define child abuse operationally is a complex task, as it involves an interpretation of what acts or behaviours towards a child are inappropriate and an estimation of the amount of harm suffered by a child. There are specific criminal laws which provide a clear benchmark of what is inappropriate behaviour, such as the rape of a child. But in other instances the civil law focuses on whether the child has suffered harm as a consequence of parental behaviour (or inaction in the case of neglect), and whether the harm is significant or not, such as when concerns exist about parental substance misuse or domestic violence. Clearly, it is always difficult to estimate the incidence and prevalence of a phenomenon such as child abuse. This is partly due to the difficulty in defining ‘child abuse’, but it is also related to the hidden nature of abuse and the varied forms in which it can present. Our understanding of the nature of child abuse comes from a range of sources, including statistics gathered by professionals in the course of their work, personal accounts provided by survivors of abuse and neglect, and research studies.

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