Human Services Guide

Child Abuse

It is a sad fact that Child Abuse is on the rise in America. There is a hidden and growing epidemic of child abuse in the US, with 3.3 million cases of child abuse or neglect made in the United States affecting almost 6 million children. Unfortunately, the United States has the distinction of having the worst record of an industrialized nation with 5 deaths a day due to child abuse or neglect1. These sobering facts reveal a great need for an increase in awareness and active work on the part of Human Services professionals to stem the tide, and heal this societal disease.

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Different Human Services organizations will have different standards and protocols for the reporting of child abuse. In many states, public Human Services workers are considered mandatory reporters and are obligated by law to report suspected child abuse to the proper state authorities. As with other forms of Family Abuse, Child Abuse reports have strict confidentiality requirements that are of paramount importance. The confidentiality is due to potential reprisals by abusers on the children.

Child abuse can take many forms. The most commonly associated form of abuse is physical abuse which affects 17.6% of the children who are abused. Physical abuse has been criminalized and is often one of the most easy to detect of all forms of abuse due to the bruises, scars and burn that are left on children by their abusers2.

What is startling is that by far the most common form of abuse reported is neglect which affects a full 78.3% of all children who are abused3. This staggering figure is partly explained by noting that these are not discrete categories and children who suffer physical abuse can also suffer from neglect. The dangers of neglect are much higher than many realize and lead to a significant number of deaths of children every year. Reports of neglect should be taken very seriously by Human Services providers.

It is also important to realize that psychological abuse is probably far more common, but is underreported by comparison due to it not usually endangering the child’s life the way physical abuse or neglect might. Psychological abuse is also fairly invisible compared to physical abuse or neglect which tends to be more readily apparent to the outside observer. The scars from psychological abuse are on the inside, but the effect on children can be as profound as those children who suffer physical abuse.

Another invisible scourge and sad statistic is that 9.2% of abuse victims suffer from sexual abuse4. This number may be significantly higher due to social reasons it is kept hidden including the shame and confusion the victim feels. Often sexual abusers will go to great lengths to manipulate the child to hide their activities. Sexual abuse as an incredible impact on the psyche of the victim and must be treated with the utmost compassion, care and confidentiality. The long term impact of sexual abuse is hard to adequately measure, but its profundity is not.

Medical neglect, where a child is kept from getting appropriate medical treatment, is the rarest forms of abuse but can have life threating consequences. Medical neglect is also more of a legal/moral grey area due to religious reasons sometimes being cited as to why a parent did not seek medical treatment. There have been a number of high profile cases over the years where religious observance was cited as the reason parents did not seek medical treatment for their children. It is important to make sure that you follow the law and any protocols your organization might have around medical neglect.

While the statistics around child abuse in America are very grim, this means the opportunity to help children is also very large. Whether you work as a Child Welfare Case Worker who specializes in assessments and in certain cases removal of children from unsafe homes, or a Child Advocate screening prospective foster care or adoptive homes, the avenues to help children who are abused are many. There are also careers in Counseling, Licensed Social Work and Child Psychology. There are a great diversity of careers that can help children who are in abusive situations.