When a child experiences physical or emotional abuse, the wounds run skin deep. Kids who suffer repeated trauma feel lonely, scared, worthless and unloved, which is exactly the opposite of how children should feel. Abused children often become broken, hollow and bitter, with mental consequences that last long after the physical wounds have healed.
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According to the non-profit organization Prevent Child Abuse New York (PCANY), several factors cause some people to have difficulty meeting the demands of parenthood, leading them to become abusive when they reach a breaking point or don’t know what else to do. These factors include immaturity, unrealistic expectations, emotional problems, economic crisis, lack of parenting knowledge, difficulty in relationships, depression and other mental health problems. When the stress of childcare combines with anxiety from other sources, some parents lack the skills to cope with it in healthy ways. Instead, their tempers get the best of them in times of crisis.
The two main causes of child abuse are domestic violence and substance abuse. Children who live in households where violence is present usually end up becoming victims themselves. PCANY reports that 50 to 70 percent of men who abuse their female partners also abuse their children.
Substance abuse is another leading cause of child abuse. According to PCANY, drugs or alcohol contribute to 70 percent of cases of child maltreatment, meaning physical abuse or neglect. Kids under 5 are the most susceptible to abuse or neglect by a substance-abusing parent and represent the fastest growing population of foster children.
The most obvious effect of child abuse is physical injury to the child. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, physical injuries can be minor, such as bruises, or severe, such as broken bones or even death, but the pain and suffering leaves much deeper emotional scars.
Sometimes, abuse can lead to lasting or recurring health problems, such as shaken baby syndrome or impaired brain development. Abused babies and toddlers are especially vulnerable to injuries to important regions of the brain that are still developing, causing long-term problems with cognitive, language and academic abilities. CWIG reports that adults who experience abuse or neglect during childhood are more likely to suffer from physical ailments such as arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, high blood pressure and ulcers.
Kids who get abused often feel isolated, fearful and untrusting, and these immediate emotional effects can transform into lifelong consequences, including low self-esteem, depression and relationship difficulties. According to the CWIG, about 80 percent of young adults who were abused as children met the diagnostic criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder at age 21, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders and suicide.
Other psychological conditions associated with abuse are panic disorder, dissociative disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and reactive attachment disorder. CWIG also reports that many kids who are abused score lower than average on tests of cognitive ability, language development and academic achievement.
According to CWIG, abused and neglected kids are 25 percent more likely to experience problems such as delinquency, teen pregnancy and teen drug use and 11 times more likely to be arrested for criminal behavior as a juvenile. CWIG says about 66 percent of people in drug treatment programs report being abused as children, and over 30 percent of abused and neglected kids eventually victimize their own children.
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cial welfare, and criminal violence. Although no specific theory about the causes of child abuse and neglect has been substantially replicated across studies, significant progress has been gained in the past few decades in identifying the dimensions of complex phenomena that contribute to the origins of child maltreatment.
Efforts to improve the quality of research on any group of children are dependent on the value that society assigns to the potential inherent in young lives. Although more adults are available in American society today as service providers to care for children than was the case in 1960, a disturbing number of recent reports have concluded that American children are in trouble (Fuchs and Reklis, 1992; National Commission on Children, 1991; Children's Defense Fund, 1991).
Efforts to encourage greater investments in research on children will be futile unless broader structural and social issues can be addressed within our society. Research on general problems of violence, substance addiction, social inequality, unemployment, poor education, and the treatment of children in the social services system is incomplete without attention to child maltreatment issues. Research on child maltreatment can play a key role in informing major social policy decisions concerning the services that should be made available to children, especially children in families or neighborhoods that experience significant stress and violence.
As a nation, we already have developed laws and regulatory approaches to reduce and prevent childhood injuries and deaths through actions such as restricting hot water temperatures and requiring mandatory child restraints in automobiles. These important precedents suggest how research on risk factors can provide informed guidance for social efforts to protect all of America's children in both familial and other settings.
Not only has our society invested relatively little in research on children, but we also have invested even less in research on children whose families are characterized by multiple problems, such as poverty, substance abuse, violence, welfare dependency, and child maltreatment. In part, this slower development is influenced by the complexities of research on major social problems. But the state of research on this topic could be advanced more rapidly with increased investment of funds. In the competition for scarce research funds, the underinvestment in child maltreatment research needs to be understood in the context of bias, prejudice, and the lack of a clear political constituency for children in general and disadvantaged children in particular (Children's Defense Fund, 1991; National Commission on Children, 1991). Factors such as racism, ethnic discrimination, sexism, class bias, institutional and professional jealousies, and social inequities influence the development of our national research agenda (Bell, 1992, Huston, 1991).
The evolving research agenda has also struggled with limitations im-