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Child Abuse and Neglect

Lynn Blinn Pike
Department of Human Development and Family Studies

How large is the problem?

National statistics on the amount of child abuse and neglect are difficult to obtain because states use different definitions. Some states report only substantiated cases that have been verified according to state law. Other states report and combine both the number of substantiated and indicated cases. In indicated cases of abuse there is reason to suspect abuse or neglect, but less evidence to prove it.

In the United States it is estimated that for every 1,000 children, there were approximately 15 cases of substantiated abuse and neglect. Missouri's rate of 15 cases per 1,000 children mirrors the national figure.

What behaviors are abusive?

There are five general categories of child maltreatment:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Neglect
  • Other.

Each of these includes a list of behaviors in its definition. Physical abuse includes scalding, beating or severe physical punishment. Sexual abuse includes incest, sexual assault, fondling of genital areas, exposure to indecent acts or involvement in sexual pornography. Emotional abuse includes verbal abuse and belittlement, terrorizing acts, and lack of nurturance or emotional support. Neglect occurs when a parent/care giver fails to meet the child's educational, supervisory, and medical needs. The "other" category includes abandonment, prenatal exposure to alcohol and other drugs, and threats to harm the child.

Often a child has been the victim of more than one type of abuse. Many children who are known to have been physically abused or neglected have also been sexually abused. Such sexual abuse may or may not be reported.

What causes abuse and neglect?

Researchers no longer believe that it is only the poor mental health of the parent or care giver that causes child abuse and neglect. Other factors that may be involved include financial stress and poverty, adult use of alcohol and other drugs, a lack of parenting skills and basic knowledge of child development, and the community and family in which the child lives.

Adults abuse children in different ways. For example, physical abusers tend to be lonely, angry, anxious and unable to make and keep close relationships with family members and friends. Neglectful adults, on the other hand, seem to be immature and unable to make life decisions about marriage, employment or having children.

What can be done to prevent child abuse and neglect?

The number of children who are abused and neglected will not decline without major efforts by federal, state and local officials to:

  • Reduce poverty
  • Prevent and treat substance abuse
  • Educate new parents on basic child development and parenting skills
  • Rebuild communities and support children and families.

The following types of programs have been shown to have a positive effect on preventing child abuse and neglect:

  • Home visiting by volunteers or professionals
  • Education of new parents immediately after child delivery
  • Parent education classes
  • Family preservation services that combine several programs
  • Time-out programs for stressed parent/care givers
  • Education of children about self-protection
  • Education of children in "self-care" or latchkey situations
  • Programs targeting pregnant or parenting teenagers
  • Media programs and campaigns

What are some signs of abuse?

  • Welts, bruises, bruises in various stages of healing, cigarette burns or other skin injuries
  • Dirty or inappropriate clothing for the weather
  • Dirty appearance and lack of basic hygiene (i.e. dental care)
  • Severely abnormal eating habits and/or malnourished appearance
  • Tired and listless much of the time
  • Poor physical and/or emotional development for the child's age
  • Extreme behavior: unusually aggressive or destructive, extremely passive and withdrawn, excessive crying, or lack of response to pain or pleasure
  • Intense fear of parents, men and/or strangers, or extreme efforts to please a parent or parents
  • Habitual absence from or late to school

What can I do?

If you witness or suspect that a child is a victim of maltreatment you must help. There are various programs in Missouri that offer assistance to both parents and children who are in violent situations. Reports of abuse should be made by telephone to the state's toll free hotline number (800-392-3738), county police departments or welfare offices as soon as possible.

Mandated reporters are individuals who have direct contact and supervision or care of children Ñ they are required by law to report instances of abuse. Examples of mandated reporters include, but are not limited to, teachers, child care workers, medical personnel, dentists, social workers and law enforcement. Mandated reporters are responsible for reporting abuse or neglect when there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been the victim of maltreatment. Mandated reporters must make a report when they suspect a child has been or may be subjected to conditions or circumstances which would reasonably result in abuse of neglect.

If you voluntarily report an instance of abuse, your identity will be kept confidential. However, you will be asked to give information on how you may be contacted if further investigation is needed. Your name will not be revealed as reporter of the incident of maltreatment.

When should I call the hotline?

Calls to the hotline should be made as soon as possible when abuse/neglect or maltreatment is witnessed or suspected. In order for the hotline to accept a report, it is important for the reporter to know the identity of the child, parents and the alleged perpetrator, and where the child can be located. There must be specific allegations of abuse or neglect, and the alleged perpetrator must have care, custody and control of the child. Other questions which will be asked by staff from the hotline include:

  • How do you know about the abuse and neglect?
  • Were there other witnesses and how can they be contacted?
  • What is the present location of the child?
  • Is the child currently in a safe location?

These numbers are available to assist you in your efforts to report cases of abuse and neglect:

  • Missouri Child Abuse/Neglect Hotline
    800-392-3738
  • Child Help U.S.A. Child Abuse/ Neglect Hotline
    800-422-4453
  • Child Abuse and Neglect (Reporting and Assistance)
    314-751-3348

ParentLink

In Missouri
800-552-8522

Our staff can provide you with materials about reporting, how to help the victim, and other related topics.

We can provide support for the caller, problem-solve relationship, safety, communication, boundaries and other issues.

We can refer you to counseling services and transfer you to a child abuse hotlines directly if appropriate.

More information

  • Children's Trust Fund
    PO Box 1641
    1719 Southridge
    Jefferson City, Mo. 65102-1641
    314-751-5147
  • Division of Family Services in your community
  • Missouri Chapter-National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse/Neglect
    308 High Street
    Suite 303
    Jefferson City, Mo. 65101
    573-634-5223
  • Missouri Department of Health
    Bureau of Family Health
    PO Box 570
    Jefferson City, Mo. 65102-0570
    573-751-6215
  • National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect
    8201 Greensboro Dr.
    Suite 600
    McLean, Va. 22102
    703-821-2086

Books

  • Child Welfare League of America. 1995. Child Abuse and Neglect: A Look at the States. Washington, DC.
  • Englander, E. K. 1997. Understanding Violence. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
  • Finkelhor, D. 1986. A Source Book on Child Sexual Abuse. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications.
  • Fontana, V. J. and D. J. Besharov. 1996. The Maltreated Child: The Maltreatment Syndrome in Children a Medical, Legal, and Social Guide (fifth edition) Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas Publisher.
  • Gelles, R. J. and D. R. Loseke. 1993. Current Controversies on Family Violence. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage Publications, Inc.
  • MacFarlane, K. and J. Waterman. 1986. Sexual Abuse of Young Children. New York, N.Y,: Guilford Press.
  • Melton, G. B. and F. D. Barry. 1994. Protecting Children From Abuse and Neglect: Foundations for a New National Strategy. New York, N.Y.: Guilford Press.
  • Monsey, B., G. Owen, C. Zierman, L. Lambert, and V. Hyman. 1995. What Works in Preventing Rural Violence: Strategies, Risk Factors, Assessment Tools. St. Paul, Minn.: Amherst H. Wilder Foundation.
  • National Research Council. 1993. Understanding Child Abuse and Neglect. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
  • Peled, E., P. G. Jaffe, and J. L. Edleson. 1995. Ending the Cycle of Violence: Community Responses to Children of Battered Women. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.
  • Reiss, D., J. E. Richters, M. Yarrow-Radke, and D. Sharff. 1993. Children and Violence. New York, N.Y.: Guilford Press.
  • Straus, M. B. 1995. Abuse and Victimization Across the Life Span. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Swift, C. F. 1995. Sexual Assault and Abuse: Sociocultural Context of Prevention. Binghamton, N.Y.: The Haworth Press, Inc.
  • Swisher, K. L. 1996. Domestic Violence. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, Inc.
  • Thompson, R. A. 1995. Preventing Child Maltreatment Through Social Support. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Books for young children

  • Anderson, D. and M. Finne. 1986. Margaret's Story: Sexual Abuse and Going to Court. Minneapolis, Minn.: Dillon Press, Inc.
  • Anderson, D. and M. Finne. 1986. Robin's Story: Physical Abuse and Seeing the Doctor. Minneapolis, Minn.: Dillon Press, Inc.
  • Bahr, A. C. 1986. Sometimes It's OK to Tell Secrets. New York: Putnam Publishing Group.
  • Freeman, L. 1988. It's My Body: A Book To Teach Young Children How To Resist Uncomfortable Touch. Seattle, Wash.: Parenting Press, Inc.
  • Girard, L. W. 1984. My Body is Private. Niles, Ill.: Albert Whitman and Company.
  • Girard, L. W. 1985. Who Is a Stranger and What Should I Do? Niles, Ill.: Albert Whitman and Company.
  • Gordon, S., and J. Gordon. 1984. A Better Safe Than Sorry Book: A Family Guide For Sexual Assault. Fayetteville, N.Y.: Ed-U Press.
  • Jessie. 1991. Please Tell!: A Child's Story About Sexual Abuse. Hazledon.
  • Morgan, L. 1989. Daniel and His Therapist. Papers, Inc.
  • Nasta, P. 1991. Aaron Goes to the Shelter: A Story and Workbook Guide About Abuse, Placement, and Protective Services. Whole Child Press.

Books for adolescents

  • Bean, B., and S. Bennett. 1993. The Me Nobody Knows: A Guide For Teen Survivors. Lexington Books.
  • Berger, G. 1990. Violence and the Family. New York: Franklin Watts.
  • Bocher, D. 1991. Rape: What Would You Do If...? Messner.
  • Hodson, H. 1993. Power Plays: How Teens Can Pull the Plug on Sexual Harassment. Deaconess Press.
  • Lena, D., and M. Howard. 1990. Sexual Assault: How to Defend Yourself. Frederick Fell.
  • Levy. 1993. In Love and in Danger: A Teen's Guide to Breaking Free of Abusive Relationships. Seal Press.
  • Mufson, S., and R. Kranz. 1991. Straight Talk About Child Abuse: High School Help Line. Dell.

Videos

  • Child Abuse. 1994. Cynwyd, B. Schlessinger Video Productions/ In Vision Communications. 30 Minutes. Video tape and guide. Grades 7-12.
  • Children and Domestic Violence. 1994. Domestic Violence: Broken Wings Series. 18 Minutes.
  • Help Me Make It Through the Day. 1989. Purdue Child In Your Life Series/MU Extension — Indiana. "Parental Stress."
  • Shaking Hitting Spanking: What to do Instead. 1990. Bavolek, S.J. Family Resource Center. 30 minutes.
  • Why Won't You Behave? 1988. Purdue Child In Your Life Series, Extension — Indiana. "Child Development." 28:30 minutes.
  • With a Little Help From My Friends. 1988. Purdue Child In Your Life Series, Extension — Indiana. "Parental Stress."

Manuals

  • De Panfilis, D. and M. K. Salus. 1992. A Coordinated Response to Child Abuse and Neglect: A Basic Manual. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families — National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect.
  • Gaudin, J. M. 1993. Child Neglect: A Guide for Intervention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families — National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect.
  • Kropenske, V., and J. Howard. 1994. Protecting Children in Substance- Abusing Families. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families — National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect.
  • Koralek, D. 1992. Caregivers of Young Children: Preventing and Responding to Child Maltreatment. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families — National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect.
  • Tower, C. C. 1992. The Role of Educators in the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families — National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect.
  • Campaign Against Family Violence: Program Resources. Health and Information Resources Coordinator, AMA Alliance 515 N. State Street, Chicago, Ill. 60610, 312-464-4470.

GH6604, reviewed March 2000


GH6604 Child Abuse and Neglect | University of Missouri Extension