Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors
The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1973 was enacted to protect children. It defines childabuse (and neglect) as “the physical treatment and mental injuring, sexualabuse, negligent treatment, or maltreatment of a child under the age of 18 by aperson who is responsible for the child’s welfare under circumstances whichindicate that the child’s health and welfare is harmed or threatened thereby.”
A non-accidental injury to a child is physical abuse. Failure to provide achild with basic emotional and physical needs is neglect. Neglectincludes not providing a child with basic medical care. Sexual abuse is definedas any sexual activity between an adult and a child.
What are the causes and risks of the injury?
Children ofall ages, ethnic and cultural groups, and socioeconomic levels are at risk forabuse. Certain factors put some children at higher risk forbeing abused. Three particular areas of stress have been shown to increase therisk of abuse to a child.
Child-produced stress factors
These stress factors include a child who may be:
Social-situational stress factors
These stress factors include:
Parent-produced stress factors
These stress factors include parents who have the following characteristics:
Symptoms & Signs
What are the signs and symptoms of the injury?
Children who have been abused often have a variety of psychologicalproblems and symptoms. Therefore, no single symptom will necessarily indicatethat abuse has occurred. Many symptoms of abuse are also symptoms of other disordersor problems. For this reason, it is extremely importantto have the child evaluated by an experienced healthcare provider.
Emotional and behavioral symptoms of child abuse may include:
The following physical symptoms may result from child abuse:
Diagnosis & Tests
How is the injury recognized?
Child abuse is typically recognized in several ways. Often, a professional willbe the first to recognize and report suspected abuse. This may be a teacher,day care worker, or healthcare provider. In other instances, a family member orneighbor suspects abuse. Once abuse is suspected, the child should be evaluatedby a healthcare provider.
The provider’s evaluation will vary depending upon the type of abusesuspected. Unless sexualabuse is suspected, a gynecologic or rectal exam isnot routinely performed. Unless the abuse is recent and rathersevere, sexual abuse typically does not leave any physical marks.
If physicalabuse is suspected, the healthcare provider will do acomplete physical exam. For any injury or condition associated with childabuse, the provider should thoroughly question the caretaker.
Sometimes abuse is diagnosed indirectly. During an examination, a healthcare provider may notice evidence of old injuries.
Prevention & Expectations
What can be done to prevent the injury?
Providing information about the risks of abuse is important. Developing trust within communities helps people talk about abuse. Education about community resources for victims of abuse is key. Reading about child abuse raises awareness.
Ask directly about signs that may indicate abuse. For instance, if a neighborchild has unexplained bruising, ask that child how the injury occurred. Even thougha child may not tell you exactly what happened, his or her reaction can give youmore information about the situation. Simply asking theright questions can sometimes reduce the risk factor of social isolation.Showing concern can give the child confidence that there is someone to turn to.
Treatment & Monitoring
What are the treatments for the injury?
A child suspected of having been abused should be evaluated immediately. The treatment willbedependent upon the injury or condition.
There are long-term emotional and psychological problems from beinga victim of child abuse. Children who have been abused may benefit fromcounseling with a therapist. The counselor will help them work through feelings of lowself-esteem, anger, and helplessness. They may also help the children learn and use new tools to protectthemselves.
The parents or caretakers of the child should also receive counseling. Information about parenting skills and alternative discipline methods can be helpful. Anger management techniques can be learned.
Unfortunately, there are times when a caretaker is not able to adequately carefor the child. In these instances, the child typically has to be removed fromthe home to protect them from further abuse.
What are the side effects of the treatments?
In general, there are no side effects from treatment of childabuse. If medications are used to treat physical or mental conditions, they may have side effects.
What happens after treatment for the injury?
Child abuse can cause long-term psychological and physicalproblems for the child. Long-term counseling may be needed to help the childwork through feelings and develop a healthy self-concept.
Article type: xmedgeneral