What is child abuse?

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Child Abuse

Introduction

Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Services (MCYS, 2005) states that, “Child abuse is defined as any act of omission or commission by a parent or guardian which would endanger or impair the child's physical or emotional well-being, or that is judged by a mixture of community values and professionals to in inappropriate.”

Different types of abuse

MCYS (2005) recognised four different types of abuse, namely physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse as well as neglect. In addition, neglect can be broken down into 4 segments; physical, medical, education and emotional (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2006)

Therefore, what actually comprises in each of the different types of abuse?

Physical Abuse

In accordance to Child Welfare Information Gateway (2005), physical abuse is physical injury caused by punching, beating, kicking, stabbing, burning or using a foreign object to hit the other party. The severity of injury may vary from minor bruises to fractures or death. Furthermore, physical abuse does not take into consideration if perpetrators accidentally or intentionally harm the child.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is known as inappropriate activities performed by the perpetrators. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) further defined sexual abuse as “the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or the rape, and in cases or caretaking or inter-familial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children.” (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2006)

Emotional Abuse

Child Welfare Information Gateway (2006) states, child can be emotional abused if perpetrators conduct behaviours that affects child's emotional development or sense of self-worth. However, MCYS (2005) added, emotional abuse not only affects child's emotionally development, it also weakens child's social and intellectually development. Additionally, such abuse exists with adult's continual hostility, ignoring, blaming, threats, discrimination or blatant rejection of the child (MCYS, 2005).

Moreover, based on research, both sources agreed that other types of abuse are also present if emotional abuse is being identified.

Neglect

In relation to Chan, Chow & Elliot (2000), neglect was redefined as either omission or commission of any act that impairs the child's physical, psychological, intellectual or social development.

As mentioned above, neglect can be categorised into 4 different segments. First, physical neglect may be the inability of providing food and shelter as well as the lack of supervision (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2006). Second, adult may failed in the provision of essential medical care or mental health treatment which is known as medical neglect (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2006). Next, adults may commit to education neglect if they are not capable of giving child an education as well as the lack of attention to special education needs (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2006). Last but not least, if adults do not attend to child's emotional needs, failure to give child adequate love and care and allowing child to have easy access to alcohol and drugs, adults are at high risk in executing emotional neglect (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2006).

However, it is important for further investigations to be done if any of the neglect is present. There might be other contributing factors such as poverty or different culture practices that might surface parents are being negligent.

Why is Child Abuse a topic of interest

As an advocator, it is important to know that children are safe, being respected and are treated appropriately. With the raising numbers of cases of child abuse in Singapore, it shows that any children may be at risk of being a victim.

According to the statistics on child abuse investigations from Year 2009 to Year 2010 (MCYS, 2011), apart from physical neglect, the rest of the types of abuse cases had increased. The numbers shown were the cases with evidence of cases. For example, the number of physical abuse cases had a jump from 82 to 133, which is about 38%. As for sexual abuse, it raised from 28 to 46 numbers of cases, which is equivalent to 39%. Emotional abuse cases had increased by 2, summing up to 6 cases in Year 2010. Although there was a drop of 4 cases for physical neglect, it may show that people may be more aware of such wrong behaviours. However, these numbers stated above only showed the reported cases with evidence. What about the other cases that had been reported but inadequate evidence were gathered?

In addition, children from the United States (U.S) were victims of abuse and neglect as well. Statistics for Year 2006 shows that 54% are victims of child maltreatment of age up to 7 years. To add on, statistics reported an estimated number of 1,530 children died due to abuse or neglect. Out of 1,530 children, 78% were children under the age of 4 (Shaw & Goode, 2006). This shows that children of the preschool years are very vulnerable to abuse.

Maine State Dept. of Behavioral and Developmental Services (2001) mentioned that childhood abuse may lead to adult experience of shame, repeated flashbacks and nightmares may be traumatic for the victim. In addition, it may cause victim to be severely anxious over matters, depression as well as developing feelings of humiliation and unworthiness.

Therefore, it is also important to educate parents about the raising numbers of child abuse cases. In addition, to create awareness that no one should deprive a child to have a healthy childhood experience.

Hence, in this present paper, it will further elaborate on who may be the victims of child abuse and its impact on children, how child abuse affected parents and what happened to survivors of child abuse as they grow up.

Victims of child abuse and its impact

According Chan, Chow & Elliot (2000), evidence from research stated that adolescents are also at high risk on physical maltreatment. On top of that, more commonly reported cases of physical child abuse cases involve the adolescents as well.

Therefore, what makes a certain child be at a higher risk of child abuse? Statistics consistently showed that families that are socially and economically disadvantaged have more reports on physical abuse. Based on the research, families that falls under the low income family or annual income are below poverty level, it is more likely for the child to receive more fatal or serious injuries (Chan, Chow & Elliot, 2000).

Being financially unstable may cause a child to be a victim of child abuse, however this is not the main reason to place such child at risk. Pre-matured infants, intellectually disabled and any child who are developmentally disabled can be vulnerable to being abused too (Chan, Chow & Elliot, 2000). The reasons behind it are such child is viewed as a source of stress and burden to the family and family might find it difficult to handle.

For instance, a child was being physically abused, how did the experience affects the child negatively? In accordance to Chan, Chow & Elliot (2000), it may cause impairment in child's behaviours, varied severity of physical injuries on child, child faces difficulties at school and child may have poor interpersonal skills.

However, one of the limitations of this study is that research was carried out long ago and results are still limited and scarce in Singapore. Next, this study did not exactly mention the precise source where they gathered the statistics or how did they go about gathering and compiling the results. Lastly, this study focuses on two age groups which are the infants and toddlers and the adolescents. What about children from the older age group? How high is the risk for older children pertaining to child abuse?

Impact on parents

The term “impact on parents” refers to parents who were once victims of abuse or parents who had child who was being abused. Hence, how did once victimised parents got over the bad experience and started a new family? In addition, how did parents feel when their child was being abused by others?

Being a parent, survivor of child abuse, and yet having a child who was assaulted, it may be very distressing especially for parents who disclose their childhood abuse experience for the first time (Grant, 2006). Furthermore, these parents may start to develop a sense of guilt as they were not incapable to protect their child despite experiencing it. Parents may also have flashbacks of those painful memories after disclosing the abuse (Grant, 2006).

In addition, Grant (2006) mentioned that parents who had child being abused may begin to face many challenges. Having a child being abused, it may be hard for certain parents to accept the fact. Certain parents may be too overwhelmed and can be emotionally unstable. Parents may be in the state of confusion which in turn may impede their ability to support and provide help for their child and family throughout the investigation process (Grant, 2006).

Taking for example if parents entrust their child with a caretaker and it turn out to be the caretaker who is the perpetrator, parents may be devastated and hard to believe. In addition, parents may be in great shock and developed a sense of betrayal. Therefore, after encountering such incident, how easy or possible can the parent cooperate and trust other unknown professionals? (Grant, 2006) Additionally, parents may also put the blame on themselves for allowing their child to be abused. For instance, they may question themselves, “Why had not I (parents) see this situation?”, “Why did not I protect my child?” or ‘What type of a parent am I?” (Grant, 2006)

Upon accepting reality, it can be really hard on parents to handle the upcoming problems faced at home if they have more than one child. Parents may understand that they had to spend more time with the victim, trying to help the child to get over the bad encounter. On the other hand, parents have to ensure that they are capable to maintain a healthy relationship with other children at home. If the situation is not handled appropriately, other children may start to develop a sense of jealousy and resentment towards the victimised sibling as well as the parent (Grant, 2006).

However, one of the limitations in this study is that there was not any statistics given. Next, this study did not mention the age of the parents. Older parents may be able to handle the situation better than younger parents. Lastly, this study did not give detailed information on the parent's family background and the relationship within the family. With a supportive family, parents as well as child may be able to recover faster from the bad encounter.

Survivors of child abuse when they grow up

As researched by Maine State Dept. of Behavioral and Developmental Services (2001), some abused children may experience lifelong emotional harm as they grow up. For instance, some abused children may experience serious mental health problems. Research estimated that abused children are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop a serious mental illness. In addition, up to 70% of women who were treated in psychiatric setting have histories of childhood abuse (Maine State Dept. of Behavioral and Developmental Services, 2001).

On top of that, some may suffer lifelong physical harm due to childhood abuse. Ranging from 3% to 6%, research shows that abused children may develop a permanent disability (Maine State Dept. of Behavioral and Developmental Services, 2001). Brain damage is an example of permanent disability and 20% to 50% of abused children suffered from brain damage but of different severity. It is further hypothesized that abused children are of higher risk of getting heart disease, cancer or even other chronic medical conditions (Maine State Dept. of Behavioral and Developmental Services, 2001). However, there is not concrete evidence to prove this hypothesis.

Another negative impact on abused children is that they cause self inflict harm. Some abused children may get into a depression and others may choose to attempt suicides (Maine State Dept. of Behavioral and Developmental Services, 2001). Some abused children may even abuse the use of drugs, alcohol or nicotine in order to minimise or hide their pain. It was also reported by Maine State Dept. of Behavioral and Developmental Services (2001) that sexually abused children may be more exposed to further sexual abuse or to contract sexually-transmitted disease (STD).

However, one limitation of this study is that the statistics are not up to date. Therefore, results given in this study may not be accurate enough. Findings may vary if research is done based on recent years.

Apart from the depressing impacts that happened on survivors of childhood abuse, some survivors chose to seek help from professionals such as social workers, counsellors or therapists.

This research was done by questionnaires and interviews were conducted based on respondent's willingness. Out of 500 questionnaires mailed out, there were 384 completed questionnaires. Fifty interviews were also conducted to further supplement the data.

Out of the 15 themes that were emerges based on how helpful the services were, seven common themes were mentioned in the study. Respondents felt that professional helpers were patient and they listened. In addition, professional helpers seem to be empathetic (Palmer, Brown, Rae-Grant & Loughlin, 2001). Next, respondents felt that professional helpers were able to help them deal with their raging feelings and they no longer have to avoid those feelings. To add on, having nonjudgmental and understanding professional helpers benefitted survivors as they were encouraging too. Next, survivors felt empowered as the professional helpers believed in them. Professional helpers were also able to provide connections for the survivors with other survivors, letting them know that they are not alone. On top of that, professional helpers helped survivors to build their self-esteem and develop a value of self worth. Lastly, professional helpers were able to validate survivor's experience giving survivors assurance (Palmer, Brown, Rae-Grant & Loughlin, 2001).

However, one of the limitations of the study is to generalise survivor's experience across different types of abuse. In addition, the study only produced one side of the data. Findings may be different if these components are further addressed.

Conclusion

To conclude, it is important to create the awareness to parents about the raising numbers of child abuse cases in Singapore. By doing so, parents may be more aware of their own actions and not commit to any form of abuse be it accidentally or intentionally. In addition, parents are encouraged to develop an early, secure and consistent relationship with the children (Shaw & Goode, 2008). On top of that, according to Shaw & Goode (2008), parents need to provide the same level of attention to child's emotional and social needs, not only their cognitive skills.

For future research, it would be good to research more on how one can further help victims and survivors who are really resistant to get over the bad experience. In addition, another research can be done to help children to work on their social and emotional skills after the bad encounter.

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