Several studies have shown a relationship between various forms of household dysfunction (including childhood abuse) and poor health (Flaherty et al., 2006; Felitti, 2002). Other psychological and emotional conditions associated with abuse and neglect include panic disorder, dissociative disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, depression, anger, posttraumatic stress disorder, and reactive attachment disorder (Teicher, 2000; De Bellis & Thomas, 2003; Springer et al 2007).
The negative effects of experiencing abuse and/or witnessing domestic violence can persist into adulthood, including depression, low self-esteem, violent practices in the home, and criminal behavior (Silvern et al 1998). One long-term study found that as many as 80 percent of young adults who had been abused met the diagnostic criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder (including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicide attempts) at age 21 (Silverman, Reinherz, & Giaconia, 1996). Adults who experienced abuse or neglect during childhood are also more likely to suffer from physical ailments such as allergies, arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, high blood pressure, and ulcers (Springer et al 2007).
A National Institute of Justice study found that abused and neglected children were 11 times more likely to be arrested for criminal behavior as a juvenile, 2.7 times more likely to be arrested for violent and criminal behavior as an adult, and 3.1 times more likely to be arrested for one of many forms of violent crime (juvenile or adult) (English, Widom, & Brandford, 2004). Research also reflects an increased likelihood that abused and neglected children will smoke cigarettes, abuse alcohol, or take illicit drugs during their lifetime (Dube et al., 2001).
It is estimated approximately one-third of abused and neglected children will eventually victimize their own children (Prevent Child Abuse New York, 2003).
In Cuyahoga County alone last year there were 2,910 case of actual child abuse that were substantiated by the County. Most estimates indicate that one in five girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before age sixteen.
Domestic violence and child abuse are often closely linked. Various studies have shown that between 45% and 70% of children exposed to domestic violence are also victims of physical abuse themselves (Oufsky 1999). The U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse named domestic violence as “the single greatest precursor to child abuse fatalities in the United States” (1995). During 2010 the City of Cleveland dispatch received 19,670 calls reporting domestic violence and DVCAC received 16,555 calls to the 24 Hour Domestic Violence Helpline.
Helping an abused or neglected child
*From HelpGuide.org "Child Abuse and Neglect: Recognizing and Preventing Child Abuse"
What should you do if you suspect that a child has been abused? How do you approach him or her? Or what if a child comes to you? It’s normal to feel a little overwhelmed and confused in this situation. Child abuse is a difficult subject that can be hard to accept and even harder to talk about.
Just remember, you can make a tremendous difference in the life of an abused child, especially if you take steps to stop the abuse early. When talking with an abused child, the best thing you can provide is calm reassurance and unconditional support. Let your actions speak for you if you’re having trouble finding the words. Remember that talking about the abuse may be very difficult for the child. It’s your job to reassure the child and provide whatever help you can.
Tips for talking to an abused child
- Avoid denial and remain calm. A common reaction to news as unpleasant and shocking as child abuse is denial. However, if you display denial to a child, or show shock or disgust at what they are saying, the child may be afraid to continue and will shut down. As hard as it may be, remain as calm and reassuring as you can.
- Don’t interrogate. Let the child explain to you in his or her own words what happened, but don’t interrogate the child or ask leading questions. This may confuse and fluster the child and make it harder for them to continue their story.
- Reassure the child that they did nothing wrong. It takes a lot for a child to come forward about abuse. Reassure him or her that you take what is said seriously, and that it is not the child’s fault.
- Safety comes first. If you feel that your safety or the safety of the child would be threatened if you try to intervene, leave it to the professionals. You may be able to provide more support later after the initial professional intervention.
Reporting child abuse and neglect
If you suspect a child is being abused, it’s critical to get them the help he or she needs. Reporting child abuse seems so official. Many people are reluctant to get involved in other families’ lives.
Understanding some of the myths behind reporting may help put your mind at ease if you need to report child abuse
- I don’t want to interfere in someone else’s family. The effects of child abuse are lifelong, affecting future relationships, self-esteem, and sadly putting even more children at risk of abuse as the cycle continues. Help break the cycle of child abuse.
- What if I break up someone’s home? The priority in child protective services is keeping children in the home. A child abuse report does not mean a child is automatically removed from the home - unless the child is clearly in danger. Support such as parenting classes, anger management or other resources may be offered first to parents if safe for the child.
- They will know it was me who called. Reporting is anonymous. In most states, you do not have to give your name when you report child abuse. The child abuser cannot find out who made the report of child abuse.
- It won’t make a difference what I have to say. If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, it is better to be safe than sorry. Even if you don’t see the whole picture, others may have noticed as well, and a pattern can help identify child abuse that might have otherwise slipped through the cracks.