Child abuse affects millions of children every year. Child abuse is defined as “the hurting or causing harm to a child” (Stewart, 2003, p. 6). Most people do not understand why a parent would want to hurt their children. “The general belief is that parents who maltreat their children are pathological and certainly not like us” (Polonko, 2005). It is not just parents that abuse the children it is also teachers, babysitters, and daycare workers (Stewart, 2003). Lingern (2008) reported the following:
Child abuse was not recognized as a serious problem in the United States until the 1960s. The number of cases reported has increased each year since 1976, when statistics were first kept. In 2004 almost 1.9 million child abuse and neglect cases were reported in the US. Of those reported, nearly 80% of perpetrators were parents.
The most common types of child abuse are physical abuse, mental maltreatment and neglect, and sexual abuse (Olive, 2007). “Physical abuse includes scalding, beatings with an object, severe physical punishment, and a rare form of the abuse called Munchausen by proxy” (National Research Council, 1993, p. 59). Mental abuse is when there is a “continuing pattern of parental behavior that is psychologically destructive to the child” (Olive, 2007, p. 67). Neglect happens when a child is “ignored or left alone so much that their well-being is endangered, yet the parent is able, but fails to provide for their basic needs.” (Olive, 2007, p. 67). Lastly, the most unreported type of child abuse is sexual child abuse. Sexual child abuse is “sexual activity between an adult and a child that is initiated by the adult, and from which the adult receives some sort of sexual gratification” (Olive, 2007, p. 78).
All types of child abuse and neglect leave everlasting scars on a child. There are various indications in a child’s appearance that imply they are a victim of abuse. Many children that are physically abused have unexplained bruises, welts, burns, cuts, bite marks, or fractures. They may also have frequent injuries and may avoid personal contact. Children that are victims of neglect usually have dirty clothing, may be hungry, tired, and may seek affection from an adult, such as a teacher (Lingern, 2008).
“Abuse and neglect of children occurs in all types of families regardless of race, culture, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or religious group” (Lingern, 2008). There is no single cause of child abuse. Instead it is the result of many forces, within the family, working towards the destruction of the child’s psyche. The most important thing to remember is that it is never the child’s fault. Three prevalent risk factors for those who abuse children are: parents who were abused as a child, parents that abuse drugs and alcohol, and parents with mental illnesses.
A common reason that parents abuse their children is because they were abused growing up. “They are the little ones we failed to protect a generation...