What Factors Contribute to Child Abuse
What Factors Contribute to Child Abuse

The pre-requisite for building the classification of child abuse factors is determined by its relevance to society. Over the past 10 years, more than 20,000 American children are believed to have been killed in events associated with child abuse. This figure is almost four times higher that the number of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, the rate of child abuse is one of the highest in the world with millions of cases reported annually. Studies point to the fact that negative childhood experiences may lead to development of physical or mental illnesses in individuals. The more intense the negative effects are, the more likely a person will acquire the illness. Child abuse or neglect does not result from a single factor. Most commonly, it is the result of a combination of different elements. Not only the nature of the factor itself plays a role in contributing to child abuse but also the duration and intensity of such factor. The reasons behind the child abuse and its consequences for children are crucial for developing the necessary policies for their prevention and management. Understanding of factors that contribute to child abuse requires their detailed classification, which divides them into parental, environmental and child factors.

Parental Factors

Psychological Factors

A wide range of psychological attributes of parents has been associated with a risk of child abuse. For example, individual characteristics as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, poor anger management and predisposition to violence. Some researchers also point to such characteristics of parents as low intelligence, immaturity, aggression, loneliness, apathy and narcissism. Moreover, caregivers who have erroneous knowledge of parenting and child development or wrong child expectations are more likely to resort to child abuse. Specific circumstances, such as teenage pregnancy, may also increase the risk of child abuse due to inability of parents to empathize with their children, especially under stressful conditions in the family. However, the latter factors are often dependent on cultural traditions and practices of the parenting and disciplinary actions that are considered to be appropriate within particular cultural context. Therefore, assessment of child abuse and response to it should consider these cultural differences.

The most substantial parental factor that contributes to child abuse is a psychological illness of a parent. It increases the risk of a child suffering from serious harm, as children may become objects of parental aggression, rejection or other delusions. Mentally sick parents may force their children to take part in their compulsions or restrict children from performing various social activities. In rare cases, a child may also develop the same delusions as his/her caregivers “as part of a folie deux (madness shared by two)”. It can occur when a child adopts the psychotic belief of a caregiver and may sustain it as an adult.

Factors Associated with Physical Abuse

Researches consider domestic violence that involves the parent as the most substantial factor that increases the risk of children physical abuse. Each year, from 1.5 to 3.3 million families with children in the U.S. are engaged in domestic violence. Scholars believe that men who resort to wife beating are more likely to abuse their children physically than other men. In addition, women who suffer from violence of their husbands are also more likely to beat their children. Some experts also note that there is a higher risk of child abuse if “domestic violence is present along with other issues such as parental mental illness, learning disability, drug or alcohol misuse.”

Violence in a family may have different negative consequences on a child. Besides the actual physical abuse, children who witness domestic violence have an increased risk of developing mental illnesses and abusing their children as adults. Up to 70 percent of people who abuse their children were abused in childhood. However, it does not mean that having suffered from maltreatment makes a person resort to abuse as an adult. Only one-third of people who experienced abuse in childhood become abusers. It means that there are more factors that contribute to this issue.

Effects of Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is believed to highly increase the risk of children maltreatment. The studies show that about 50% to 80% of parents that deal with childhood protection services are suffering from a substance-abuse addiction. Evidence of the impact of substance abuse on the risk of child abuse can be traced by the tendency that indicates a step growth of both prevalence of cocaine and reports to the children protective services, since late 1980s. Thus, many researches point to the direct relation of parental substance abuse and children maltreatment.

In addition, the concurrence of substance abuse and psychological parental problems are believed to increase the risk of child abuse. For example, maternal depression and alcohol problems increase the likelihood of children’s exposure to physical violence. When a parent intakes substances at home, children may suffer from trauma when they witness frightening, irrational and confusing parental actions. In addition, drug and alcohol addict may allow other addicts or dealers use their homes. As the result, children are forced to contact with unsafe adults, witness violence, prostitution and other types of criminal misconduct.

Child Factors

Age and Gender Characteristics

Age and gender of a child are significant risk factors regarding child abuse. Scholars argue that younger children, premature infants and female children have an increased risk of being subjected to child abuse than children of other age and gender groups. In addition, girls are generally more vulnerable to sexual abuse than boys. Child protective services indicate that there are more reports related to abuse of infants and young children than older ones. About 1.6 percent of children under age were reported to suffer from maltreatment compared to 0.9 percent of teenagers from 16 to 18. The consequences of abuse for younger children are also more severe due to their fragile organisms. For the period of 1993 to 1995, about 45 percent of deaths associated with child abuse were reported among infants and 85 percent among children under age of 5.

Children with Disabilities

Children with disabilities are four to ten times likely to suffer from children abuse than healthy children, regardless of intellectual capacity of the caregivers. Moreover, the risk increases if a parent of a child with special needs also suffers from learning disability. A study by Tanimura, Matsui and Kobayashi on maltreatment of children with disabilities provides valuable insights into the general understanding of the child abuse issue. The study focused on families that had twins, as twins are reportedly more likely to acquire birth defects and disabilities due to immediate complications after birth. The researchers discovered that if both twins were maltreated, it was likely that family suffered from serious problems, meaning that parental factors played an important role in these cases. The study also indicates that it is more likely that one twin is abused more than the other. After comparing both twins, the researchers concluded that under the circumstances of stress, which is associated with rearing a child with disability, parents tend to exercise favoritism towards a healthy twin and abuse the one with a disability.

Environmental Factors

Socio-economic situation in the family is the leading environmental factor that may contribute to child abuse. Studies confirm that there is a relation between child abuse and such factors as rearing a child in poverty or in a single-parent family. Although child maltreatment is reported to occur in families of all levels of income, the rates are significantly higher among low-income families. Socio-economic situation is also believed to be the strongest determinant of an increased risk of sexual and emotional abuse. According to the National Incidence Study, family income has the deepest impact on the incidence across categories of child maltreatment. The relationship between poverty and child abuse is not studied completely. The possible explanation is that the stress associated with living in poverty may compel parents to compensate their frustrations on a child. The consequences of poor financial situation fuse with other risk factors such as neglect, domestic violence, child disabilities, substance addiction and specific cultural norms that permit corporal punishment as a form of disciplinary action.

The classification of factors that contribute to child abuse is a significant step towards resolving this social problem. The risk of a child to suffer from abuse is associated with different psychological attributes of a caregiver, the socioeconomic status of a family and the characteristics of children. Characteristics of parents, such as mental illness, exposure to maltreatment and domestic violence and outlooks on parenting directly affect the rates of child abuse. Characteristics of a child, such as its age and gender, as well as child’s disabilities or the need for special care may increase the risk of maltreatment. Finally, the financial situation of a family, such as poverty, may have a direct and indirect influence on the phenomenon of child abuse.

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