Tuesday

What Factors Contribute to Child Abuse and Neglect?

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There is no single known cause of child maltreatment. Nor is there any single description that captures all families in which children are victims of abuse and neglect. Child maltreatment occurs across socio-economic, religious, cultural, racial, and ethnic groups. While no specific causes definitively have been identified that lead a parent or other caregiver to abuse or neglect a child, research has recognized a number of risk factors or attributes commonly associated with maltreatment. Children within families and environments in which these factors exist have a higher probability of experiencing maltreatment. It must be emphasized, however, that while certain factors often are present among families where maltreatment occurs, this does not mean that the presence of these factors will always result in child abuse and neglect. The factors that may contribute to maltreatment in one family may not result in child abuse and neglect in another family. For example, several researchers note the relation between poverty and maltreatment, yet it must be noted that most people living in poverty do not harm their children. Professionals who intervene in cases of child maltreatment must recognize the multiple, complex causes of the problem and must tailor their assessment and treatment of children and families to meet the specific needs and circumstances of the family.

Risk factors associated with child maltreatment can be grouped in four domains:
  • Parent or caregiver factors
  • Family factors - see below
  • Child factors
  • Environmental factors

Family Factors

Specific life situations of some families—such as marital conflict, domestic violence, single parenthood, unemployment, financial stress, and social isolation—may increase the likelihood of maltreatment. While these factors by themselves may not cause maltreatment, they frequently contribute to negative patterns of family functioning.


Family Structure

Children living with single parents may be at higher risk of experiencing physical and sexual abuse and neglect than children living with two biological parents.45 Single parent households are substantially more likely to have incomes below the poverty line. Lower income, the increased stress associated with the sole burden of family responsibilities, and fewer supports are thought to contribute to the risk of single parents maltreating their children. In 1998, 23 percent of children lived in households with a single mother, and 4 percent lived in households with a single father.46 A strong, positive relationship between the child and the father, whether he resides in the home or not, contributes to the child's development and may lessen the risk of abuse.

In addition, studies have found that compared to similar non-neglecting families, neglectful families tend to have more children or greater numbers of people living in the household.47 Chronically neglecting families often are characterized by a chaotic household with changing constellations of adult and child figures (e.g., a mother and her children who live on and off with various others, such as the mother's mother, the mother's sister, or a boyfriend).48


The Child Abuse and Father Absence Connection
  • The rate of child abuse in single parent households is 27.3 children per 1,000, which is nearly twice the rate of child abuse in two parent households (15.5 children per 1,000).
  • An analysis of child abuse cases in a nationally representative sample of 42 counties found that children from single parent families are more likely to be victims of physical and sexual abuse than children who live with both biological parents. Compared to their peers living with both parents, children in single parent homes had:
    • 77 percent greater risk of being physically abused
    • 87 percent greater risk of being harmed by physical neglect
    • 165 percent greater risk of experiencing notable physical neglect
    • 74 percent greater risk of suffering from emotional neglect
    • 80 percent greater risk of suffering serious injury as a result of abuse
    • 120 percent greater risk of experiencing some type of maltreatment overall.
  • A national survey of nearly 1,000 parents found that 7.4 percent of children who lived with one parent had been sexually abused, compared to only 4.2 percent of children who lived with both biological parents.
  • Using data from 1,000 students tracked from seventh or eighth grade in 1988 through high school in 1992, researchers determined that only 3.2 percent of the boys and girls who were raised with both biological parents had a history of maltreatment. However, a full 18.6 percent of those in other family situations had been maltreated.
  • A study of 156 victims of child sexual abuse found that the majority of the children came from disrupted or single-parent homes; only 31 percent of the children lived with both biological parents. Although stepfamilies make up only about 10 percent of all families, 27 percent of the abused children in this study lived with either a stepfather or the mother's boyfriend.49


Marital Conflict and Domestic Violence

According to published studies, in 30 to 60 percent of families where spouse abuse takes place, child maltreatment also occurs.50 Children in violent homes may witness parental violence, may be victims of physical abuse themselves, and may be neglected by parents who are focused on their partners or unresponsive to their children due to their own fears.51 A child who witnesses parental violence is at risk for also being maltreated, but, even if the child is not maltreated, he or she may experience harmful emotional consequences from witnessing the parental violence.52


Stress

Stress is also thought to play a significant role in family functioning, although its exact relationship with maltreatment is not fully understood.53 Physical abuse has been associated with stressful life events, parenting stress, and emotional distress in various studies.54 Similarly, some studies have found that neglectful families report more day-to-day stress than non-neglectful families.55 It is not clear, however, whether maltreating parents actually experience more life stress or, rather, perceive more events and life experiences as being stressful.56 In addition, specific stressful situations (e.g., losing a job, physical illness, marital problems, or the death of a family member) may exacerbate certain characteristics of the family members affected, such as hostility, anxiety, or depression, and that may also aggravate the level of family conflict and maltreatment.57


Parent-Child Interaction

Families involved in child maltreatment seldom recognize or reward their child's positive behaviors, while having strong responses to their child's negative behaviors.58 Maltreating parents have been found to be less supportive, affectionate, playful, and responsive with their children than parents who do not abuse their children.59 Research on maltreating parents, particularly physically abusive mothers, found that these parents were more likely to use harsh discipline strategies (e.g., hitting, prolonged isolation) and verbal aggression and less likely to use positive parenting strategies (e.g., using time outs, reasoning, and recognizing and encouraging the child's successes).60

Read more at: http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/usermanuals/foundation/foundatione.cfm
Child Welfare Information Gateway promotes the safety, permanency, and well-being of children, youth, and families by connecting child welfare, adoption, and related professionals as well as the general public to information, resources, and tools covering topics on child welfare, child abuse and neglect, out-of-home care, adoption, and more.

A service of the Children's Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, we provide access to print and electronic publications, websites, databases, and online learning tools for improving child welfare practice, including resources that can be shared with families.

Child Welfare Information Gateway consolidates and builds upon the services formerly provided by the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information (NCCANCH) and the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse (NAIC).
The National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information (NCCANCH) was established in 1974 by the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act to collect, organize, and disseminate information on all aspects of child maltreatment. View legislationexternal link


The National Adoption Information Clearinghouse (NAIC) was established by Congress in 1987 to provide free information on all aspects of adoption. The NAIC website is now the adoption section of the Child Welfare Information Gateway website, and provides comprehensive information on domestic and intercountry adoption. View legislationexternal link

Prior to the creation of Child Welfare Information Gateway, each Clearinghouse represented different aspects of the child welfare system, with some overlap. By consolidating and expanding upon the two Clearinghouses to create one Child Welfare Information Gateway, the Children's Bureau provides professionals working in child abuse prevention, family support, foster care, and many related fields with information and resources that span the full spectrum of child welfare topics to help protect children and strengthen families.

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