from anovagrrl - Friday, December 27, 2002
accessed 7032 times
I did my dissertation on definitions of child abuse. I know something about the subject that may be of help to you.
There are several ways to define child abuse. Experts in the field generally agree that there are 1) legal definitions, 2) medical definitions, 3) psycho-social definitions.
Legal definitions quite frequently take into account the medical and psycho-social definitions, but must also balance rights of parent/guardians versus concern for the “best interests” of children, who pretty much don’t have “rights” in the same sense that adults do. In the US, each state is responsible for providing it’s own definitions of abuse and neglect within the criminal codes. Legal definitions vary.
Medical definitions are limited to signs and symptoms: burns, welts, broken bones, emotional distress, developmental delays. What Monk cites from the Nursing Dictionary is a good example of a medical definition. The professional context of this definition is infant-maternal health care, a major area of community nursing with “at risk” populations. For this reason, the definition states “child abuse predominately affects children less than three years of age.” This statement is valid only within the context of community nursing health care.
Children and adolescents of all ages can and do meet psycho-social or clinical criteria for abuse. Psycho-social definitions of abuse can be found in the Encyclopedia of Social Work as well as many websites, such as www.childhelpusa.org. Following are some psycho-social definitions from that website that may or may not meet medical and legal criteria for “abuse”:
Sexual abuse - Any sexual act between an adult and child. This includes fondling, penetration, intercourse, exploitation, pornography, exhibitionism, child prostitution, group sex, oral sex, or forced observation of sexual acts.
Neglect - Failure to provide for a child's physical needs. This includes lack of supervision, inappropriate housing or shelter, inadequate provision of food and education, inappropriate clothing for season or weather, abandonment, denial of medical care, and inadequate hygiene.
Emotional abuse - Any attitude or behavior which interferes with a child's mental health or social development. This includes yelling, screaming, name-calling, shaming, negative comparisons to others, telling them they are "bad, no good, worthless" or "a mistake". It also includes the failure to provide the affection and support necessary for the development of a child's emotional, social, physical and intellectual well-being. This includes ignoring, lack of appropriate physical affection (hugs), not saying "I love you", withdrawal of attention, lack of praise, and lack of positive reinforcement.
Exploitation - This form of abuse includes "the use of a child by a parent, guardian or custodian for material gain which may include forcing the child to panhandle, steal or perform other illegal activities." In the Arizona, it is a criminal offense.
Emotional maltreatment is controversial when it comes to codifying abuse in the criminal code, because this form of abuse gets confounded with legal debates about societal and cultural norms, religious beliefs, family values and parental rights. However, from a purely clinical standpoint, people who provide treatment to abuse survivors spend a lot of time listening to stories of emotional abuse and neglect. We also struggle to figure out whether and how to medicate adults who display the damage done to development of their central nervous system, hippocampus, and limbic system during childhood.
If you’re interested in making a legal case of psycho-social abuse and neglect under civil statutes concerned with financial liability, try documenting the cost of the behavioral healthcare services you’ve received to treat depression, anxiety, interpersonal conflict, substance abuse, and chemical dependency.