Would you know how to spot child abuse?
This is the third in a series of Let’s talk about Abuse. Today we’re going to look at Child Abuse but before we start:
Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, this article might mention trauma-related topics which could potentially be triggering.
First, let’s take a look at the following Child Abuse statistics for year ending March 2019 from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), 2019. If you’re not too interested in statistics, just scroll down the page.
- The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimated that one in five adults aged 18 to 74 years experienced at least one form of child abuse, whether emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or witnessing domestic violence or abuse, before the age of 16 years (8.5 million people).
- Many cases of child abuse remain hidden; around one in seven adults who called the National Association for People Abused in Childhood’s (NAPAC’s) helpline in the latest year had not told anyone about their abuse before.
- In the year ending March 2019, Childline delivered 19,847 counselling sessions to children in the UK where abuse was the primary concern; around 1 in 20 of the sessions resulted in a referral to external agencies. So yes, let’s talk Child Abuse.
What is the UN convention on the rights of the child?
In 1989, governments across the world adopted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), recognising that all children have the right to be treated with dignity and fairness, to be protected, to develop to their full potential and to
Their rights, according to UNCRC, include that: Governments must do all they can to make sure every child can enjoy their rights; to life, to adequate standard of living and non-discrimination, from child mortality to combating disease and malnutrition, preventing violence and injury, ensuring rehabilitation and support for children with disabilities, or abolishing traditional practices that harm children such as early enforced marriage and female genital mutilation.
So, what is Child Abuse?
The World Health Organization (WHO) describes child abuse as a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there’s an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress.
Who are the abusers
Sometimes people who abuse children were themselves abused as children. A cycle of abuse might be difficult to break if it’s not dealt with effectively. It can be passed down through generations within a family.
Child abusers come from all walks of life and abuse could happen anywhere i.e. in the home, at school, at the local swimming pool or park. Child abusers can be anyone from parents, caregiver, close family members, family friends, teachers and/or coaches. In fact, an abuser could be anyone who has access to a child — whether through action or failing to act.
People who’ve experienced abandonment, witnessed family violence or experienced various forms of abuse during childhood are at greater risk of poor mental health, behavioural and interpersonal skills in later life.
Types of abuse
Child abuse is behaviour toward a child that is outside the ‘normal societal behaviours’. Four types of abuse are generally recognized:
- Emotional abuse includes any act that results in the child suffering significant emotional deprivation or trauma. Emotional abuse harms a child’s mental and social development, and over time, can cause severe emotional harm.
Shouting at a child or at other parent in front of them is child abuse. Being threatening towards a child, saying things like “If you don’t behave, I’ll cut your rabbit in half”, or “If your gonna sulk I’ll smash up that bloody laptop” is child abuse.
Putting a child down or criticising them, particularly in front of people, shaming or making the child feel guilty is abuse. Letting children hear adult themed conversations, talking about divorce or separation or putting the other partner down in front of a child is also abuse.
Psychological abuse is often the hardest form of abuse to identify. However, if a child is abused in another way i,e, physically or sexually, psychological abuse might not be far behind.
‘My greatest wish is that my kids always know how much I love them, and that they walk through the rest of their life knowing I’ll always be there for them anyway I can.’Unknown
Signs a child might be emotionally abused might include:
- Withdrawal from friends and activities they used to enjoy
- Sudden loss of self-confidence, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, OCD or unusual fears
- Looking sad and lonely, different from how they’ve been in the past
- Changes in behavior — such as anger, aggression, hostility or hyperactivity and being spiteful, bullying others such as younger siblings, school friends and even parents
- Rebellious or defiant behavior, deliberately breaking all the normal family or school rules
- An apparent lack of supervision, possibly always out on the streets
- Running away
- Frequent absences from school or sudden changes in school performance
- Reluctance to leave school activities, as if he or she doesn’t want to go home
- Self-harm; pulling out their hair, cutting or scratching self, or suicide attempts
- Physical abuse is when a parent, family friend, teacher or caregiver purposely causes physical injury to a child. There’s lots of signs of physical abuse, some of which are listed here:
- Bruises, black eyes, blisters, hair pulling, cuts and cigarette burns, scars or scratches
- Severe visible injuries like burns or welts, possibly hit with a belt or stick
- Broken arms, legs or hands, dislocated joints
- Internal injuries like stomach; perhaps being kicked and punched or brain damage
- Lifelong injury as in brain injury, death
Be aware if a child doesn’t want to leave, say a friend’s birthday party, to go home, or they’re afraid of adults, including other parents
- Neglect includes any serious omission or act that constitutes a failure to provide the essential conditions for the healthy emotional and physical development of a child (within the bounds of cultural tradition). Some examples are:
- Leaving a child alone without appropriate supervision i.e. leaving a baby with a 6/7 year old sibling while parent goes off to a bar or party
- Not receiving comfort, affection, and appropriate stimulation from caregivers; no smiles, hugs or appropriate physical bonding. No emotional support such as ignoring their cries, their feelings or other emotional needs
- Not getting medical help when required or quite the opposite, Munchausen syndrome by proxy (a mental health problem where a caregiver makes up or causes an illness or injury in a child
- Infection because of lack of medication or poor hygiene which might result in scabies, head lice, diarrhea
- Not enrolling a child at school or not making sure a child attends school
Signs of neglect in children would include things like:
- Nasty body odour, matted hair, dirty skin and/or nails
- A child being ill-kempt, extremely dirty clothing or wearing clothing that’s way too small or too big
- Untreated sores, scabs or severe nappy rash
- If a baby isn’t meeting appropriate physical and developmental milestones without an underlying medical reasons
- Being hungry and stealing food or what might appear as gluttony – eating really quickly and furtively
- A child is always tired, late for school or not attending school
- Feeling bad about themselves, not making friends
- Being involved in serious accidents like falling down stairs, constantly bruised or broken bones
I have consciously left out Childhood Sexual Abuse in this article, as that’s a whole other post.
Knowing how to help a child who is being abused and how to respond if you think a child is suffering is very complex. So too is understanding why most children don’t disclose, but I’ll try to cover that in my next post childhood sexual abuse. Listed here are support services you might want to contact for advice and support if you know of a child being abused:
- NAPAC because the damage caused by child abuse doesn’t always end in childhood. NAPAC offer support to adult survivors and training for those who support them. Call 0808 801 0331
- NSPCC 0808 800 5000 to report concerns about a child
- Childline call 0800 1111 for advice and support
Though it’s crucial to raise awareness of child abuse, researching and writing this article brought up many old thoughts and feelings. It’s been depressing at times, anxiety provoking, soul-destroying and shocking. I’m guessing that many of you will have had similar anxieties reading it. If so, I’m sorry for what you may have gone through and, please take a few moments to self-soothe and to take care of yourself.
I hope you’ve found this post useful in some way. Do you think I’ve covered most angles, or do you need more? Would you ever report to the authorities if you saw signs of child abuse? I’m really interested to hear your opinions and I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.
One last thought: if you’re having relationship problems, please – tell a friend, speak to your GP or find a therapist, but please don’t take it out on the children.