In most cases, having a baby is exciting and overwhelming at the same time. Raising a child is even more so. But, sadly, we have an alarming amount of children who increasingly becoming victims of child abuse and neglect. In a recent post, I shared the signs of child abuse. While they are a must-know if a situation ever arises where you’d be concerned, you should also be aware of the risk factors or triggers before these situations even begin.
- Economic factors. Poverty, stress, unemployment, restricted mobility and poor housing can create a situation that may impair a parent’s ability to adequately care for a child. But, it is important to note that middle and upper class families may experience job loss or financial stress as well. Child abuse is not limited to families in poverty.
- Values. A family may feel it is normal or acceptable to use violence and force, including domestic violence, acceptability of corporal punishment, and of family violence.
- Devaluation of other children and other dependents. If a parent or caregiver lacks respect or care for other people or children they care for, it may be a factor for child abuse.
- Overdrawn values of honor, with intolerance of perceived disrespect.
- Unacceptable child-rearing practices. For example, genital mutilation of female children, father sexually initiating female children.
- Cruelty in child-rearing practices. For example, putting hot peppers in a child’s mouth, depriving a child of water, confining a child to his or her room for days, or taping his mouth with Duct tape for “back talk.”
- Institutional manifestations of inequalities and prejudice, in law, healthcare, education, welfare system, sports, entertainment, etc.
- Low self-esteem. Neglectful parents often neglect themselves and see themselves as worthless people.
- Abuse as a child. Parents may repeat their own childhood experience if no intervention occurred in their case and no new adoptive skills were learned.
- Depression may be related to brain chemistry and/or a result of having major problems and limited emotional resources to deal with them. Abusive and neglectful parents are often seen and considered by themselves and others to be terribly depressed people.
- Impulsiveness. Abusive parents often have a marked inability to channel anger or sexual feelings.
- Substance abuse. Drug and/or alcohol use serves as temporary relief from unconquerable problems, but, in fact, creates new and bigger problems.
- Character disorder or psychiatric illness.
- Ignorance of child development norms. A parent may have unrealistic expectations of a child, such as expecting a 4-year-old to wash his or her own clothes.
- Isolation. Abusive and neglectful families may tend to avoid community contact and have few family ties to provide support. Distance from, or disintegration of, an extended family that traditionally played a significant role in child rearing may increase isolation.
- Sense of entitlement. Some people believe that it’s acceptable to use violence to ensure a child’s or partner’s compliance.
- Mental retardation or borderline mental functioning.
- Chronological age of the child. 50% of abused children are younger than three years old; 90% of children who die from abuse are younger than one year old; firstborn children are more vulnerable.
- Mismatch between child’s temperament or behavior and the parent’s temperament or expectations.
- Physical or mental disabilities.
- Attachment problems or separation from parent during critical periods or reduced positive interaction between parent and child.
- Premature birth or illness at birth can lead to financial stress, inability to bond, and parental feelings of guilt, failure or inadequacy.
- Unwanted child or child who reminds parent of absent partner or spouse.
- Domestic violence. Children may be injured while trying to intervene to protect a battered parent or while in the arms or proximity of a parent being assaulted. Domestic violence can indicate one parent’s inability to protect the child from another’s abuse because the parent is also being abused.
- Stepparent, or blended families are at greater risk. There is some indication that adult partners who are not the parents of the child are more likely to maltreat. Changes in family structure can also create stress in the family.
- Single parents. Economic status is typically lower in single-parent families, and the single parent is at a disadvantage in trying to perform the functions of two parents.
- Adolescent parents are at high risk because their own developmental growth has been disrupted. They may be ill-prepared to respond to the needs of the child because their own needs have not been met.
- Punishment -centered child-rearing styles have greater risk of promoting abuse.
- Scapegoating of a particular child will tend to give the family permission to see that child as the “bad” one.
- Adoptions. Children adopted late in childhood, children who have special needs, children with a temperamental mismatch, or children not given a culturally responsible placement.
Examples of possible triggering situations include:
- A baby will not stop crying.
- A parent is frustrated with toilet training.
- An alcoholic is fired from a job.
- A mother, after being beaten by her partner, cannot make contact with her own family.
- A parent is served an eviction notice.
- A prescription drug used to control mental illness is stopped.
- Law enforcement is called to the home in a domestic violence situation, whether by the victim or a neighbor,
- A parent who was disrespected in the adult world, later takes it out on the child.
Just to be clear – this is a list of the factors involved in child abuse and neglect cases. It doesn’t by any means insinuate that a child is being abused or neglected if his/her parents are faced with one or more of these factors. The signs of abuse would also be present.
If you are aware of a child who is the victim of abuse or neglect, call the New Jersey Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline:
1 – 877 – NJ – Abuse
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