Stop the Cycle of Child Abuse, Neglect

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), October 22, 2002 | Go to article overview

Stop the Cycle of Child Abuse, Neglect


Byline: KEVIN W. ALLTUCKER and DANIEL W. CLOSE For The Register-Guard

HITTING A CHILD is never OK. Hitting a child on national television, as Madelyne Toogood did recently, not only shocked us all, but it also stripped away the veil of secrecy that normally hides child abuse from view. With parking lot security cameras rolling, the nation watched in horror as Toogood raved against her 4-year-old daughter, Martha, while she sat strapped in her car seat.

Toogood explained later she was "having a really bad day."

Like catching a lightning strike on film, Toogood's battery demonstrates the evasive and elusive aspect of child abuse. If cameras hadn't caught Toogood beating her little girl, no one would ever have known. Except Martha, of course.

Besides the sheer violence of Toogood's rage, what is more unsettling is the fact that Toogood doesn't fit the child-abusing stereotype. With every blow, she shattered misperceptions that child abusers somehow look different than the rest of us. In some way, a white middle-class mom in an SUV didn't mesh with the idea that child abuse is a problem relegated to the underclass.

Toogood could be your neighbor, friend, co-worker, relative or the mom of your child's best friend. She put a face on child abuse, and we watched dumbfounded - because of the primal viciousness, and because of the apparent pettiness of events leading up to the beating (Toogood claims she was denied a refund for a merchandise return). How could a seemingly trivial episode lead to such savagery?

We don't know the particulars about Toogood. What we do know is a "really bad day" nowadays can mean something entirely different than it used to. For a growing number of parents, having a bad day might include struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, poverty, single parenthood, mental health issues, inadequate health care, poor housing conditions, domestic violence and pervasive feelings of hopelessness.

Often, these combinations are producing toxic environments for children, youth and families, resulting in injured kids. These maltreated children frequently show up in schools as students with severe emotional behavior and special needs, requiring concentrated resources. There are other undesirable outcomes as well.

Consider the effects that Toogood's beating may have on her daughter. All of the research strongly points to the fact that child abuse is the single most devastating event that can happen to a child. No other individual experience carries such an extensive and well-documented list of disturbing consequences for children.

Long after the physical scars have faded, emotional trauma continues for child victims, often resurfacing as alcohol and drug abuse, anti-social behavior, mental illness and criminal behavior. Juvenile delinquency regularly takes hold in disorganized families with insufficient parental support and supervision. …

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