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Child Maltreatment

Child maltreatment is defined as the sexual, emotional or physical abuse or neglect of a child or a young adult by an adult. According to Child Protective Services, there were approximately 695,000 young victims of child maltreatment in the United States during 2010 alone. Unfortunately, there are many different negative consequences associated with child maltreatment that can last over the short and long term.

In addition to the physical complications associated with injuries there are many psychological ramifications that can follow a young adult in to their later years. Any form of child maltreatment is a serious and social issue that has received increased attention in the last several years. Many communities view this as a crucial problem to address to protect youth.

Child maltreatment can come in many different forms and can run the gamut in terms of severity from minor injuries to life lasting disability. A child who has suffered as a result of child maltreatment may find it difficult to stay focused in school or participate in after school activities and may struggle making relationships with friends. Some of the most common short and long term health problems and injuries associated with child maltreatment in the United States are:

  • Cancer
  • Broken bones
  • Depression
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Developmental delays
  • Liver and heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Elevated risk of becoming an abuser in the future

Child maltreatment includes all types of neglect and abuse against a child younger than 18 by a caregiver, parent or person in a custodial role. The four primary types of maltreatment include emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. Unfortunately, one quarter of all adults in the world report being physically abused as minors.

An alarming number of these report being sexually abused as a child. The consequences of child maltreatment may include lifelong mental health and physical problems as well as occupational and social outcomes that can slow a country's social and economic development. Preventing child maltreatment begins with an approach across numerous different sectors, including effective educational programs that support parents and teach positive parenting skills. Ongoing care for families as well as children can help to reduce the risk of maltreatment and can minimize the consequences in situations in which it has already happened. A number of different risk factors increase the chances that a young adult will suffer from child maltreatment. Although these risk factors are not present in every culture or social context, they provide a broader overview of the different types of elements that can be involved in child maltreatment cases. Children are always the victims and should never be blamed for any type of maltreatment. There are certain characteristics of individual children that can increase the chances they will become the victim of maltreatment. These include:

  • Being unwanted or failing to fulfill parental expectations
  • Crying persistently, abnormal physical features or having special needs
  • Being younger than 4 years old or an adolescent

When it relates to the caregiver or the parent involved in child maltreatment cases, a number of risk factors can increase the chances of child maltreatment. These include:

  • Failing to nurture the child
  • Problems with newborn bonding
  • Having been mistreated themselves as a child
  • Experiencing financial challenges
  • Being involved in criminal activity
  • Misusing drugs or alcohol during pregnancy as well
  • Lacking awareness about child development or keeping unreasonable expectations of the child

As it relates to intimate partners and the relationships often used to raise a child, a number of factors can increase the chances of child maltreatment. These include:

  • Feeling isolated in the community
  • A breakdown of support from extended family in terms of child rearing
  • Violence between other family members or family breakdown
  • Developmental, physical or mental health problems of a family member

Social and community factors can also influence whether or not child maltreatment is more likely to occur including cultural and societal norms, the availability of drugs and alcohol, high levels of poverty or unemployment and lack of adequate housing or services that support families.

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