Childhood Neglect and Abuse

Of all the conditions in life that provoke sadness, fear, anger, or even hatred, none is more intense than an adult hurting, degrading or molesting a helpless child. And neglecting that child to the point they are left unprotected and vulnerable to other predators.

Every state and country has its own laws defining abuse and neglect, and before continuing with this troubling subject it is important to relay the significance of reporting any concern you may have to the Child Protective Services in your area. If you believe that neglect or abuse may be taking place, it is your duty to report it. Whether there is proof or not is not your responsiblity, but the child’s well-being is. If you do not report a valid concern, you will never forgive yourself and you will find yourself wondering about it for many years.

The Line Between Neglect and Abuse

The line between neglect and abuse may be confusing. Differences can vary from state to state and country to country. What is referred to as neglect in one place may be regarded as maltreatment or even abuse in another state or country. Physical abuse may be called excessive corporal punishment, but broadly speaking, neglect may be defined as a parent or legal guardian not doing or providing something for the child that should have been done, while abuse is the parent or caretaker doing something to the child that should not have been done.

Neglect can take many forms with some confusing gray areas. For example, seeing a child wearing old, dirty clothes may seem neglectful and inappropriate, but seeing a young teen wearing torn jeans might only signify current fashion and stylishness. In the first case of the child’s appearance, concerns about inadequate shelter, sanitation or nourishment can be valid. Questions about where the child lives, when he had his last meal or bath, or what kind of family he has may come up in one’s mind.

Subtle Types of Neglect

Another form of neglect might be of a medical nature. Is the child suffering from malnutrition? Does he have an adequate diet? Is be being taken for regular medical check-ups or getting proper medication if needed? Then educational neglect may exist. Is the child attending school regularly or is he being home-schooled? Are his parents setting the right example or are they alcoholics, depressed or staying out all night, leaving the child to look after himself. These situations can raise a question of supervision neglect. Do the parents or guardian isolate the child from friends or other people for long periods of time? Do they humiliate or threaten the child, or simply ignore him most of the time, i.e., neglect him emotionally?

Contributing Factors

Joblessness, alcohol and substance abuse, the loss of a family member, mental illness, trauma and anger are among the many problems that contribute to not caring for a child properly. The child often feels partly or fully to blame for his treatment, and lives with guilt or self-blame, low self-esteem and feeling unloved.

And Then it Gets Physical

The parents or caretaker’s personal problems and inadequacies can rise to the level of causing physical abuse. Some simply lose patience with the child, or take out their frustrations on him, causing accidental or even intentional injury. A parent or caretaker might try to explain away the child’s bruises, welts, burn and bite marks, or even broken bones, because the child is “accident prone” or he was bad, talked back, didn’t listen or acted out. Often the parent is overly controlling and when the child does not respond properly a terrible beating ensues.

What may appear as excessive corporal punishment may seem to the parent merely appropriate discipline, justified because the child might otherwise become unruly or disrespectful. The parent will feel no guilt or believe that such mistreatment would constitute actual child abuse.

Now Remember This Is Our Little Secret

Often a child is told to lie about the marks or injuries suffered during punishment. These injuries may even be deliberately located on areas of the body not readily visible. Perhaps the adult was previously reported for similar abuse and wants to avoid another encounter with Child Protective Services, or even law enforcement.

No one wants to see a child endangered or removed from their parents. But a child’s safety is paramount. The same responsibility applies when the possibility exists of sexual abuse, covered separately.

This report is not a diagnosis. We hope this information can guide you toward improving your life.

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