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Te encyclopedia of child abuse 3rd

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Robin E. Clark, Ph.D.
Judith Freeman Clark
Christine Adamec
Introduction by
Richard J. Gelles, Ph.D.

The Encyclopedia of Child Abuse, Third Edition
Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1998 by Robin E. Clark and Judith Freeman Clark
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means,
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Clark, Robin F.
The encyclopedia of child abuse / Robin E. Clark and Judith Freeman Clark with Christine Adamec;
introduction by Richard J. Gelles.—3rd ed.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-8160-6677-9 (hardcover: alk. paper)
1. Child abuse—United States—Dictionaries. 2. Child abuse—Dictionaries. I. Clark, Judith Freeman.
II. Adamec, Christine A. 1949— III. Title.
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Introduction: Child Abuse—An Overview


Entries A to Z










Space and time considerations forced us to be
selective in choosing the topics we discussed. In
attempting to present an overall view of child
abuse and neglect, we chose topics that we felt
would give the reader a grasp of the central issues.
Information presented in this book comes from
the most up-to-date sources available at the time
of writing. We have attempted to present material
in clear language that does not require specialized
knowledge of medicine, law or other disciplines.
Our use of “simple” language should not be construed as simplistic. We believe professionals and
general readers alike will find the book contains a
wealth of useful information.
Though we have attempted to present child
abuse and neglect from an international perspective, readers will notice that most statistical information comes from the United States. This is a
reflection of the availability of such information
rather than a statement of relative importance.
In selecting entries, we chose not to include
biographies of individuals who have contributed to
the understanding and/or prevention of child abuse
and neglect. The list of these individuals is long,
and new names are constantly being added. Such
a listing, though important, is beyond the scope
of this book. Biographical information is included
only when it is relevant for the understanding of a
particular case, concept or contribution.
In this third edition of The Encyclopedia of Child
Abuse, we have both updated older entries and
included new entries. For example, we offer a
new entry on abusers, with an analysis of those
individuals who neglect or physically or sexu-

hild abuse and neglect have many different
dimensions. Though we often think of child
abuse only in terms of physical violence, various
forms of psychological threats, coercion, sexual
exploitation and even folk medicine practices can
also produce serious and long-lasting damage. The
range of actions classified as child abuse or neglect
is constantly changing as a result of social and economic conditions, political ideology, advances in
medicine, improvements in communication and
melding of cultures. Absence of a single, explicit
and universally accepted definition of abuse makes
studies of it difficult. Yet, child abuse and neglect
are not simply cultural inventions. As international
concern for the plight of children grows, those
concerned with preventing abuse and neglect are
beginning to find more and more common ground
for collaboration.
The Encyclopedia of Child Abuse reflects the
struggle to define, prevent and treat this problem.
Entries reflect the range of disciplines (including
law, medicine, psychology, sociology, economics,
history, education and others) that contribute to
our understanding of child maltreatment as well
as the scope of debate within and among disciplines. Where there is disagreement on a particular point, we have tried to identify the different
arguments. Obviously, it is not possible to present
an exhaustive discussion of each of the hundreds
of topics included in this book. For those who wish
to explore a topic in depth, we make suggestions
for further reading at the end of selected entries.
An extensive bibliography is also included at the
back of the book.


vi The Encyclopedia of Child Abuse
ally maltreat children. We also offer a new entry
on adults abused as children, because numerous
studies have documented that child abuse often
has a lifelong effect; for example, adults abused as
children have a greater risk of substance abuse in
adulthood, as well as risks for psychiatric problems
such as depression and anxiety disorders.
Adults abused as children also have a greater
risk for suicide than individuals who were not
abused in childhood. Childhood abuse has a long
reach in its effects, and adults abused as children
are more likely to be victimized in adulthood with
sexual and physical abuse. Not all adults abused as
children grow up to abuse their own children, but
the risk is elevated, and as many as 40% will be
abusive to their children. Without intervention the
cycle may continue when their children grow up.
We also offer a new entry on sexual abuse of
children and adolescents that was perpetrated by
members of the clergy, peaking in the 1970s to
1980s. This discovery shocked millions of people
worldwide and rocked the Catholic Church, as

well as other churches which discovered incidents
of sexual abuse.
Other new entries include bullying, central
registries of abuse, guilt and shame, pediatricians
and statutory rape. We have also heavily rewritten many entries, such as burns, civil commitment
laws, family preservation, fetal alcohol syndrome,
foster care, Munchausen syndrome by proxy,
parental substance abuse, sexual trafficking and
shaken infant syndrome, to name just a few.
This third edition includes two new appendixes,
including an appendix on state-by-state laws on
the involuntary termination of parental rights
and an appendix with state-by-state definitions of
abuse, physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse and
emotional abuse.
We hope users of this book will be stimulated
to learn more about child abuse and neglect. Only
through a better understanding of the complex
and often misunderstood phenomenon of child
abuse can we hope to prevent it.



Kate Kelly, our former editor, was unfailingly
cheerful throughout all stages of the original project; her suggestions were thoughtful and her editorial comments helpful. Elizabeth Frost Knappmann
of New England Publishing Associates deserves
mention for her efforts on our behalf.
Friends and colleagues have been generous with
support and encouragement during the time that
we researched and wrote this book. Janet Logan
and Susan Carter Sawyer are among those who
were especially helpful to us.
Members of our family have been patient as
we completed our work. We are grateful for their
understanding and, in particular, would like to
acknowledge the support of our mothers, Martha
Clark and Elizabeth Bartlett. Finally, a very special
thanks to Tim and Stephanie.

ver the months that the third edition of this
book was researched and written, we contacted dozens of organizations to ask for information about child abuse and neglect. In particular,
staff at the Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and
Neglect Information; the House of Representatives
Subcommittee on Children, Youth and Families;
staff of the American Association for Protecting Children; and staff of the Incest Survivors
Resource Network deserve special acknowledgment. Countless individuals at other public- and
private-sector agencies answered our mail and
telephone inquiries and sent us statistics and facts
on hundreds of topics. Although it is impossible to
mention each person by name, a sincere thankyou goes to these people for their cooperation and


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how commonplace abandonment or killing was,
we do know that infanticide was widely accepted
among ancient and prehistoric cultures. Newborns and infants could be put to death because
they cried too much, because they were sickly or
deformed, or because of some perceived imperfection. Girls, twins and children of unmarried
women were the special targets of infanticide
(Robin, 1980).
Many societies subjected their offspring to survival tests. Some Native Americans threw their
newborns into pools of water and rescued them
only if they rose to the surface and cried. German
parents also plunged children into icy waters as a
test of fitness to live (Ten Bensel, Rheinberger and
Radbill, 1997). Greek parents exposed their children to natural elements as a survival test.
Survival tests and infanticide were not the only
abuses inflicted by generations of parents. From
prehistoric times to the present, children have been
mutilated, beaten and maltreated. Such treatment
was not only condoned but was often mandated as
the most appropriate child-rearing method. Children were, and continue to be, hit with rods, canes
and switches. Boys have been castrated to produce
eunuchs. Girls have been, and continue to be, subjected to genital surgery or mutilation as part of
culturally approved ritual. Colonial parents were
implored to “beat the devil” out of their children
(Greven, 1991; Straus, 1994).
Summing up the plight of children from prehistoric times until the present, David Bakan

oday, child abuse and neglect is widely recognized as a major social problem and policy issue
in the United States and throughout much of the
world. During the last 50 years, the United States
and many of the world’s nations have responded
to child abuse and neglect with legislative efforts,
a variety of programs and interventions, and organizational efforts to identify, respond to and prevent the abuse and neglect of dependent children.
Today, there are innumerable local, national and
international organizations, professional societies
and advocacy groups devoted to preventing and
treating child abuse and neglect.

The Social Transformation of
Child Abuse and Neglect
While international concern about child maltreatment is relatively new, child abuse and neglect
is not a recent phenomenon. The maltreatment
of children has manifested itself in nearly every
conceivable manner—physically, emotionally,
sexually and by forced child labor (Ten Bensel,
Rheinberger and Radbill, 1997). Historians have
been able to document the occurrence of various
forms of the mistreatment of children back to the
beginnings of recorded history. In some ancient
cultures, children had no rights until the right
to live was bestowed upon them by their fathers.
The right to live was sometimes withheld by
fathers, and newborns were abandoned or left to
die. Although we do not have the means to know



x The Encyclopedia of Child Abuse
comments that “Child abuse thrives in the shadows of privacy and secrecy. It lives by inattention”
(Bakan, 1971).

The Discovery of Childhood,
Children and Abuse and Neglect
Although abuse and neglect of children was sometimes condoned, and most of the time occurred
within the intimacy and privacy of the home, social
concern for children, their plight and their rights
coexisted with the occurrence of maltreatment.
Concern for the rights and welfare of children has
waxed and waned over the centuries, but there has
always been some attempt to protect children from
Six thousand years ago, children in Mesopotamia had a patron goddess to look after them. The
Greeks and Romans had orphan homes. A variety
of historical accounts mention some form of “fostering” for dependent children. The absolute rights
of parents were limited by legislation. Samuel Radbill (1980) reports that child protection laws were
enacted as long ago as 450 B.C.E. Attempts were
made to modify and restrict fathers’ complete control over their children. Anthropologists note that
virtually all societies have had mores, laws or customs that regulate sexual access to children.
The Renaissance marked a new morality regarding children. Children were seen as a dependent
class in need of the protection of society. At the same
time, however, the family was expected to teach
children the proper rules of behavior. Moreover,
this was a historical period in which the power of
the father increased dramatically. This dialectic—
concern for children and increased demands and
power of parents to control children—has been a
consistent theme throughout history.
Defining childhood as a separate stage and children as in need of protection did not reduce the
likelihood of maltreatment. In Colonial America,
Puritan parents were instructed by leaders, such
as Cotton Mather, that strict discipline of children
could not begin too early (Greven, 1991).
The enlightenment of the 18th century brought
children increased attention, services and protection. The London Foundling Hospital, established
during the 18th century, not only provided medi-

cal care but also was a center of the moral reform
movement on behalf of children (Robin, 1982).
In the United States, the case of Mary Ellen
Wilson is usually considered the turning point in
concern for children’s welfare. In 1874, the then
eight-year-old Mary Ellen lived in the home of
Francis and Mary Connolly but was not the blood
relative of either. Mary Ellen was the illegitimate
daughter of Mary Connolly’s first husband. A
neighbor noticed the plight of Mary Ellen, who
was beaten with a leather thong and allowed to go
ill-clothed in bad weather. The neighbor reported
the case to Etta Wheeler—a “friendly visitor” who
worked for St. Luke’s Methodist Mission. (In the
mid-1800s, child welfare was church-based rather
than government-based.) Wheeler turned to
the police and the New York City Department of
Charities for help for Mary Ellen Wilson and was
turned down—first by the police, who said there
was no proof of a crime, and second by the charity
agency, which said they did not have custody of
Mary Ellen. The legend goes on to note that Henry
Bergh, founder of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, intervened on behalf
of Mary Ellen and the courts accepted the case
because Mary Ellen was a member of the animal
kingdom. In reality, the court reviewed the case
because the child needed protection. The case was
argued, not by Henry Bergh, but by his colleague,
Elbridge Gerry. Mary Ellen Wilson was removed
from her foster home and initially placed in an
orphanage. Her foster mother was imprisoned for a
year, and the case received detailed press coverage
for months. In December 1874, the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was
founded (Nelson, 1984; Robin, 1982). This was the
first organization that focused on child maltreatment in the United States.
Protective societies appeared and disappeared
during the next 80 years. The political scientist
Barbara Nelson (1984) notes that by the 1950s
public interest in child maltreatment was practically nonexistent in the United States (and much
of the world, for that matter). Technology paved
the way for the rediscovery of physical child abuse.
In 1946, the radiologist John Caffey reported on
six cases of children who had multiple long bone
fractures and subdural hematomas (Caffey, 1946).

Introduction xi
It would take nine more years before the medical
profession would begin to accept that such injuries were the result of actions by children’s caretakers. In 1955, P. V. Wooley and W. A. Evans not
only concluded that the X-rays revealed a pattern
of injuries but that the injuries were committed
willfully (Wooley and Evans, 1955). Wooley and
Evans went on to criticize the medical profession
for its reluctance to accept the accumulating evidence that long-bone fractures seen on X-rays were
indeed inflicted willfully.
In 1958, C. Henry Kempe and his colleagues
formed the first hospital-based child protective
team at Colorado General Hospital in Denver.
Kempe and his colleagues would publish their
landmark article, “The Battered Child Syndrome,”
in the Journal of the American Medical Association in
July 1962. Kempe’s and his multidisciplinary colleagues’ article was accompanied by a strong editorial on the battered child. The article and the
editorial were the beginning of the modern concern for child abuse and neglect, a concern that
has grown and expanded both nationally and
internationally in the past four decades.

Prevention and Treatment Efforts
The United States Children’s Bureau was founded
in 1912 as an agency in the Department of Labor.
(The bureau was later moved to the newly created
Department of Health, Education, and Welfare,
which was subsequently renamed the Department
of Health and Human Services.) The Children’s
Bureau was founded by an act of Congress with a
mandate to disseminate information on child development; it also acquired the budget and mandate to
conduct research on issues concerning child development. The Children’s Bureau has engaged in a
variety of activities regarding child maltreatment
and participated in the earliest national meetings
on child abuse, sponsored by the Children’s Division of the American Humane Association. After
the publication of Kempe and his colleagues’ 1962
article, the Bureau convened a meeting in 1963
that drafted a model child abuse reporting law.
By 1967, all 50 states and the District of Columbia
had enacted mandatory reporting laws based on
the Bureau’s model. In 1974, Congress enacted the

Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act and
created the National Center on Child Abuse and
Neglect (Nelson, 1984). Today, the Office of Child
Abuse and Neglect remains within the Children’s
Bureau and continues to coordinate the federal
effort to prevent and treat the abuse and neglect of
children in the United States.

The Definitional Dilemma
One of the most enduring problems in the field
of child abuse and neglect has been the development of a useful, clear, acceptable and accepted
definition of “abuse” and “neglect.” Defining what
is and is not abuse and neglect is at the core of
research, intervention, prevention and social policy. Researchers must have a definition of abuse
and neglect in order to engage in the most basic
studies of extent, risk factors and causes. Those
who are required to report child maltreatment
need a benchmark or standard to determine what
should be reported and what should not. And yet,
there still is not a widely accepted definition of
abuse and neglect. There is considerable variation
across the 50 state definitions that are included in
laws mandating reporting.
At the core of the definition problem is deciding
what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate
parent and caretaker behavior. Is a spanking an
appropriate and even necessary method of disciplining children, or is it physical abuse? Most people agree that an adult having sexual intercourse
with a minor child is sexual abuse. But what if
the child is 13, 14 or even 17 years of age? Legally
a 17-year-old is a child, but if the sex is consensual, is it abuse? Most people agree that appropriate parent behavior includes providing food and
shelter for children. But what if poverty limits a
parent’s ability to provide—is this neglect? There
is an infinite set of questions and dilemmas about
where to draw the line between appropriate and
acceptable behavior versus inappropriate and
unacceptable behavior. There is general agreement
at the extremes as to what is appropriate and inappropriate, but the middle area is subject to intense
debate. The debate deepens when we consider cultural variations, both within our own society and
across societies. In some cultures, female genital

xii The Encyclopedia of Child Abuse
cutting (or what is called female circumcision or
genital mutilation) is acceptable and even mandated. In the United States, cutting the genitals of
females is considered abusive. Male circumcision
is accepted in the United States and many other
What is defined as abuse and neglect varies
across societies, cultural groups and even across
historical time. Kempe and his colleagues’ first
focus was restricted to physical abuse, or what
they called “the battered child.” In the subsequent 50 years, as concern for children’s wellbeing expanded, so, too, did the definition of
child abuse and neglect. The expansion of the
definition can be seen in changes in how child
abuse and neglect have been defined in the Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.
In the 1974 version of the law, abuse and neglect
were defined as:
The physical or mental injury, sexual abuse, negligent treatment, or maltreatment of a child under
the age of eighteen by a person who is responsible
for the child’s welfare under circumstances which
indicate that a child’s health and welfare is harmed
or threatened thereby (Public Law 93-237).

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act
of 1984 defined child abuse and neglect as:
The physical or mental injury, sexual abuse or
exploitation, negligent treatment, or maltreatment of a child under the age of eighteen or the age
specified by the child protection law of the state
in question, by a person (including an employee
of a residential facility or any staff person providing out-of-home care) who is responsible for the
child’s welfare under circumstances which indicate that the child’s health or welfare is harmed or
threatened thereby, as determined in regulations
prescribed by the Secretary.

The federal definition was expanded in 1988
to indicate that the behavior had to be avoidable
and nonaccidental. This new clause attempted to
address the issue of intent; however, it still provided no clear guidance as to how to classify or
categorize cases based on intent.

The most recent authorization of the Child
Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, signed into
law in 2003, defined child abuse and neglect as
the term “child abuse and neglect” means, at
a minimum, any recent act or failure to act on
the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in
death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or an act or failure to
act which presents an imminent risk of serious
the term “sexual abuse” includes
(A) the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to
engage in, or assist any other person to engage
in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation
of such conduct for the purpose of producing a
visual depiction of such conduct; or
(B) the rape, and in cases of caretaker or interfamilial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual
exploitation of children, or incest with children;
the term “withholding of medically indicated
treatment” means the failure to respond to the
infant’s life-threatening conditions by providing treatment (including appropriate nutrition,
hydration, and medication) which, in the treating physician’s or physicians’ reasonable medical judgment, will be most likely to be effective
in ameliorating or correcting all such conditions,
except that the term does not include the failure to provide treatment (other than appropriate
nutrition, hydration, or medication) to an infant
when, in the treating physician’s or physicians’
reasonable medical judgment —
the infant is chronically and irreversibly comatose; the provision of such treatment would —
merely prolong dying;
not be effective in ameliorating or correcting
all of the infant’s life-threatening conditions; or
otherwise be futile in terms of the survival
of the infant; or

Introduction xiii
the provision of such treatment would be virtually futile in terms of the survival of the
infant and the treatment itself under such
circumstances would be inhumane
Source: (U.S.C. Title 42, Chapter 67, Subchapter
I, § 5106g)

That the federal government has a legal definition of child abuse and neglect still does not settle the matter. First, each state has its own legal
definition of child maltreatment and those definitions do vary. Second, child welfare caseworkers
and family and juvenile court judges vary in how
they apply the state definitions during the course
of child abuse and neglect investigations and court
actions. Thirdly, researchers must “operationalize” the definitions; that is, they must determine
how they will actually measure child abuse and
neglect. Here too, there is considerable variation
in how the concept “child abuse and neglect” is
operationally defined. Finally, legal definitions
and research operationalizations do not result in
definitions that can be applied across cultures and
All of the above problems actually arise out of
the fact that there is no universal standard for what
constitutes optimal child rearing. Thus, there is no
universal standard for what constitutes child abuse
and neglect (Korbin, 1981). David Finkelhor and
Jill Korbin (1988) propose that a definition of child
abuse and neglect that could be applied across subcultures and cultures should have two objectives:
(1) it should distinguish child abuse clearly from
other social, economic and health problems; and
(2) it should be sufficiently flexible to apply to a
range of situations in a variety of social and cultural contexts. The later recommendation is a caution that some of what is considered child abuse in
Western societies has very little meaning in other
societies and vice versa.
Finkelhor and Korbin (1988) propose the following definition of child abuse and neglect for
cross-cultural research and study: “Child abuse is
the portion of harm to children that results from
human action that is proscribed (negatively valued), proximate (the action is close to the actual
harm—thus deforesting land that results in child

harm does not meet this definition), and preventable (the action could have been prevented).”

The Extent of Child Abuse and
As explained in the previous section, child abuse
and neglect is a general term that covers a wide
range of acts of commission and omission, either
carried out by a child’s caretaker or allowed to happen, that result in a range of injuries ranging from
death, to serious disabling injury, to emotional distress, to malnutrition and illness.
Child abuse and neglect can take many and varied forms. The Office on Child Abuse and Neglect
classifies the various forms of maltreatment into
six major types (see National Center on Child
Abuse and Neglect [NCCAN], 1988):
1. Physical Abuse: Acts of commission that result in
physical harm, including death, to a child.
2. Sexual Abuse: Acts of commission including
intrusion or penetration, molestation with
genital contact or other forms of sexual acts in
which children are used to provide sexual gratification for a perpetrator.
3. Emotional Abuse: Acts of commission that include
confinement, verbal or emotional abuse or other
types of abuse such as withholding sleep, food
or shelter.
4. Physical Neglect: Acts of omission that involve
refusal to provide health care, delay in providing health care, abandonment, expulsion of a
child from a home, inadequate supervision,
failure to meet food and clothing needs, and
conspicuous failure to protect a child from hazards or danger.
5. Educational Neglect: Acts of omission and commission that include permitting chronic truancy, failure to enroll a child in school and
inattention to specific education needs.
6. Emotional Neglect: Acts of omission that involve
failing to meet the nurturing and affection
needs of a child, exposing a child to chronic or
severe spouse abuse, allowing or permitting a
child to use alcohol or controlled substances,
encouraging the child to engage in maladaptive behavior, refusal to provide psychological

xiv The Encyclopedia of Child Abuse
care, delays in providing psychological care and
other inattention to the child’s developmental

Various methods have been used in attempts to
achieve an accurate estimate of child abuse and
neglect in the United States, including tabulating
official reports of child maltreatment received by
state child welfare agencies, as well as self-report
The Office on Child Abuse and Neglect has
conducted three surveys designed to measure the
national incidence of reported and recognized
child maltreatment (Burgdorf, 1980; NCCAN,
1988; NCCAN, 1996). (A fourth study is under
way as of 2006, but results are not yet available.)
The surveys assessed how many cases were known
to investigatory agencies, professionals in schools,
hospitals and other social service agencies. A total
of 2.9 million children were known by the agencies surveyed in 1993 (see table).
A second source of data on the extent of child
maltreatment comes from the National Child Abuse
and Neglect Data System (NCANDS). NCANDS is a
national data collection and analysis project carried
out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, Office of Child Abuse and Neglect. In
2004, states received nearly 3 million reports of
child maltreatment. (Only 38 states provided data
on the number of reports received in 2004, totaling 2,043,523 reports.) Of these reports, 872,088
children were indicated or substantiated for maltreatment. Data on type of maltreatment were
available for 49 states and the District of Columbia (Alaska did not report data on types of abuse).
Of 872,088 victims of maltreatment, 152,250
experienced physical abuse, 544,050 experienced
neglect, 84,398 experienced sexual abuse, 61,272
experienced psychological maltreatment and the
remainder were subjected to medical neglect or
other forms of maltreatment (U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services, 2006).
Social science surveys of the use of violence
against children by parents and caregivers provide
estimates of children’s experiences with violence.
The National Family Violence Surveys (NFVS),

Maltreatment Type

Total Number of Cases

Physical Abuse
Sexual Abuse
Emotional Abuse
Physical Neglect
Emotional Neglect
Educational Neglect
Seriously Injured Children


Source: National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996.
Note: Children who experience more than one type of abuse or
neglect are reflected in the estimates for each applicable type. As a
result, the estimates for the different types of maltreatment sum to
more than the total number of maltreated children.

Percentage of Occurrences in Past Year

Violent Behavior

Threw something
at child
Pushed, grabbed
or shoved child
Slapped or
spanked child
Kicked, bit or hit
with fist
Hit or tried to hit
child with
Beat up child
Burned or
scalded child
Threatened child
with knife
or gun
Used a knife
or gun

Once Twice Twice

Percentage of
Total Reported






5.8 7.5




8.1 8.5








2.4 2.0




















Source: Second National Family Violence Survey, Richard J. Gelies
and Murray A. Straus, 1989.

Introduction xv
conducted by Murray Straus and his colleagues,
interviewed two nationally representative samples
of families: 2,146 family members in 1976 (Straus,
Gelles and Steinmetz, 1980) and 6,002 family
members in 1985 (Gelles and Straus, 1988). The
surveys measured violence and abuse by asking
respondents to report their behaviors toward their
children during the previous 12 months. “Mild”
forms of violence, such as that thought of as “physical punishment” by most people, was the type
reported most commonly. More than 80% of the
parents/caregivers of children three years to nine
years of age reported hitting their children at least
once during the previous year. Among older children, the reported rates were lower: 67% of the
parents/caregivers of preteens and young adolescents reported hitting their youngsters during the
previous year and slightly more than 33% of caregivers/parents of teenagers 15 years to 17 years of
age reported hitting their adolescents during the
prior year.
Even with the most severe forms of violence,
the reported rates were surprisingly high. Slightly
more than 20 parents in 1,000 admitted to engaging in an act of “abusive violence” during the year
prior to the 1985 survey. Abusive violence, which
was defined as an act that had a high probability of injuring the child, included kicking, biting,
punching, beating, hitting or trying to hit a child
with an object, burning or scalding, and threatening to use or using a gun or a knife. Seven children in 1,000 were hurt as the result of an act of
violence directed at them by a parent or caregiver
during the previous year. Based on these findings, it is projected that 1.5 million children in
the United States under the age of 18 years who
live with one or both parents are victims of acts of
abusive physical violence each year, and 450,000
children are injured annually as a result of parental violence.
In a more recent telephone survey of 900 parents regarding children’s experiences with violence
in the home, more than 28% of parents of two- to
eight-year-old children reported using an object
to spank their child’s bottom (Straus and Stewart,
1999). Nearly three-quarters (74%) of children
under the age of five years had been hit or slapped
by their parent(s) (Straus and Stewart, 1999).

Finkelhor and his colleagues conducted a
national survey of child victimization in 2002–03
(Finkelhor, Ormrod, Turner and Hamby, 2005).
The survey collected data on children from two to
17 years of age. Interviews were conducted with
parents and youth. Slightly more than one in
seven children (138 per 1,000) experienced child
maltreatment. Emotional abuse was the most frequent type of maltreatment. The rate of physical
abuse (meaning that children experienced physical
harm) was 15 per 1,000, while the rate of neglect
was 11 per 1,000. The overall projected extent of
maltreatment was 8,755,00 child victims (Finkelhor, Ormrod, Turner and Hamby, 2005).
An examination of NCANDS’s data on reports
of child maltreatment reveals that the number
of sustantiated reports of sexual abuse cases has
declined 40% from 1992 to 2000—from 150,000
cases to 89,500 cases (Finkelhor and Jones, 2004).
There are a number of plausible explanations for
this drop, and, in fact, there are probably many
factors that led to the decline. However, Finkelhor
and Jones conclude that at least part of the decline
is due to a true overall decline in the occurrence of
child sexual abuse.
Child Homicide. NCANDS estimated that
1,500 children were killed by parents or caregivers
in 2004 (U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, 2006). Expressed in rates, 2.03 children
per 100,000 children under 18 years of age are victims of fatal child abuse and neglect. This rate is
slightly higher than the rate of 1.84 in 2000. Fortyfive percent of child maltreatment fatalities were
children under the age of one, while 38% of the
victims were between one and three years of age.
Nearly 78% of the perpetrators were either one or
both parents.
The varied estimates of the prevalence of child
abuse and neglect most likely underestimate the
true extent of child maltreatment. Given that caretakers carry out most maltreatment in the privacy
of the home, much abuse and neglect goes undetected. Moreover, the lack of a cultural consensus
about which acts constitute abuse and neglect and
which acts are designated appropriate discipline
techniques makes it difficult to assess the true
level of the mistreatment of children. The above
estimates of maltreatment, including the estimate

xvi The Encyclopedia of Child Abuse
of child homicide, should be considered a lower
boundary of the full extent of abuse and neglect in
the United States.

Risk and Protective Factors
The first research articles on child abuse and
neglect characterized offenders as suffering from
various forms of psychopathology (see for example,
Bennie and Sclare, 1969; Galdston, 1965; Steele
and Pollock, 1974). Thus, the initial approach to
explaining, understanding and treating maltreatment was to identify the personality or character
disorders that were thought to be associated with
abuse and neglect. There were many methodological problems that limited studies that attempted
to develop psychological profiles of caretakers
who maltreated their children. Most early studies
had small samples and no, or inappropriate, comparison groups. Collectively, the studies failed to
develop a consistent profile of abusers.
Current theoretical approaches tend to recognize the multidimensional nature of abuse and
neglect and locate the roots of child maltreatment
in psychological, social, family, community and
societal factors.
Researchers have identified both risk and protective factors for abuse and neglect. The following
are the major risk and protective factors:
Age. One of the most consistent risk factors
is the age of the offender. According to NCANDS
data on reported and investigated child maltreatment, the modal age of perpetrators is 30 to 39.
However, the modal age for female perpetrators—
mostly mothers—is 20 to 29 (U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services, 2006).
Sex. Mothers are the most likely offenders
in acts of child homicide, accounting for 31.3%
of all child homicide perpetrators in 2004 (U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services,
2006). Women were the perpetrators in 57.8% of
child maltreatment homicides (U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services, 2006). Of course,
women’s higher rate of fatal and nonfatal abuse
and neglect is not surprising, given that women
spend more time caring for children and are delegated far more responsibility for raising children
than men.

Income. Although most poor parents do not
abuse or neglect their children, self-report surveys and official report data find that the rates of
child maltreatment, with the exception of sexual
abuse, are higher for those whose family incomes
are below the poverty line than for those whose
income is above the poverty line. (Pelton, 1994;
Waldfogel, 1998)
However, the impact of poverty varies by the
age of the child victim and the type of abuse. Child
abuse rates are higher for infants who live in highpoverty counties compared to infants growing up
in low-poverty counties (Wulczyn, Barth, Yuan,
Harden and Landsverk, 2005). The county poverty
rate made less of a difference in terms of maltreatment for children older than one year of age. Living in a high-poverty county increased the risk
of physical abuse for all children, irrespective of
age; however, only one-year-olds had significantly
higher rates of neglect in high-poverty versus lowpoverty counties. For children older than one, the
poverty rate of a county did not make a large difference in terms of the risk of child neglect.
Race. Both official report data and self-report
survey data often report that child abuse is overrepresented among minorities. However, both the
second and the third study of the National Incidence and Prevalence of Child Abuse and Neglect
(National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect,
1988; 1996) found no significant relationship
between the incidence of maltreatment and the
child’s race/ethnicity. There was no significant
relationship for any of the subcategories of maltreatment. NCANDS data and the two National
Family Violence Surveys, however, found stronger
relationships between race/ethnicity and violence
toward children. According to the most recent
NCANDS data, African-American children experienced the highest rates of maltreatment (19.9
per 1,000), followed by Pacific Island (17.6), and
Native American children (15.5). The lowest rates
were for whites (10.7), Hispanic (10.4), and Asian
children (2.9) (U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services, 2006).
Wulczyn and his colleague’s (Wulczyn, Barth,
Yuan, Harden and Landsverk, 2005) found a much
more nuanced relationship between multiple variables in their examination of NCANDS data. Here

Introduction xvii
again, age was a major factor in differentiating the
risk of child maltreatment. The rate of maltreatment for African-American children, one year of
ago and living in high-poverty counties, was significantly higher than the rate for white or Hispanic
children. However, for older children, the race of a
child was not a major risk predictor (although the
rate of victimization was still highest for AfricanAmerican children). The same age-specific pattern
was found in the low-poverty counties; however,
here the rate for older African-American children was higher than for older white or Hispanic

Situational and Environmental
Stress. Unemployment, financial problems,
being a single parent, being a teenage mother and
sexual difficulties are all factors that are related to
child maltreatment, as are a host of other stressor
events (Burrell, Thompson and Sexton, 1994; Gelles
and Straus, 1988; Gelles, 1989; Parke and Collmer,
1975; Straus et al., 1980).
Social isolation and social support. The data on
social isolation are somewhat less consistent than
are the data for the previously listed risk factors.
First, because so much of the research on child
abuse and neglect is cross-sectional, it is not clear
whether social isolation precedes maltreatment or
is a consequence of it. Second, social isolation has
been crudely measured and the purported correlation may be more anecdotal than statistical.
Nevertheless, researchers often agree that parents
who are socially isolated from important sources
of social support are more likely to maltreat their
children. (Wolfe and St. Pierre, 1989) Part of the
explanation for the correlation between social isolation and child maltreatment may be the poor
social skills of the caregivers (Azar, Povilaitis,
Lauretti and Pouquette, 1998).
Social support appears to be an important protective factor. One major source of social support is
the availability of friends and family for help, aid
and assistance. The more a family is integrated into
the community and the more groups and associations they belong to, the less likely they are to be
violent (Straus et al., 1980).

violence. The notion that abused children grow up
to be abusing parents and violent adults has been
widely expressed in the child abuse and family
violence literature (Gelles, 1980). Kaufman and
Zigler (1987) reviewed the literature that tested
the hypothesis of intergenerational transmission
of violence toward children and concluded that the
best estimate of the rate of intergenerational transmission appears to be 30% (plus or minus 5%).
Although a rate of 30% is substantially less than
the majority of abused children, the rate is considerably more than the 2–4% rate of abuse found in
the general population (Straus and Gelles, 1986;
Widom 1989). Egeland and his colleagues (Egeland, Jacobvitz and Papatola, 1987) examined continuity and discontinuity of abuse in a longitudinal
study of high-risk mothers and their children. They
found that mothers who had been abused as children were less likely to abuse their own children if
they had emotionally supportive parents, partners
or friends. In addition, the abused mothers who did
not abuse their children were described as “middle
class” and “upwardly mobile,” suggesting that they
were able to draw on economic resources that may
not have been available to the abused mothers who
did abuse their children.
Evidence from studies of parental violence indicates that although experiencing violence in one’s
family of origin is often correlated with later violent
behavior, such experience is not the sole determining factor. When the intergenerational transmission of violence occurs, it is likely the result of a
complex set of social and psychological process.

Research on Victims
Compared to research on offenders, there has been
somewhat less research on victims of child abuse
and neglect that focuses on factors that increase or
reduce the risk of victimization. Most research on
victims examines the consequences of victimization (e.g., depression, psychological distress, suicide attempts, symptoms of post-traumatic stress
syndrome, etc.) or the effectiveness of various
intervention efforts.
The very youngest children are at the greatest
risk of being abused, especially by lethal forms of

xviii The Encyclopedia of Child Abuse
violence (U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, 2006; Wulczyn, Barth, Yuan, Harden
and Landsverk, 2005). However, older children are
at the greatest risk of nonlethal physical abuse and
the youngest children (one to three years of age)
have the highest rate of being reported for child
neglect (U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, 2006).
Early research suggested that there were a number of factors that raise the risk of a child being
abused. Low birth weight babies (Parke and Collmer, 1975), premature children (Elmer, 1967; Newberger et al., 1977; Parke and Collmer, 1975; Steele
and Pollock, 1974) and handicapped, retarded or
developmentally disabled children (Friedrich and
Boriskin, 1976; Gil, 1970; Steinmetz, 1978) were
all described as being at greater risk of being abused
by their parents or caretakers. However, a review
of studies that examines the child’s role in abuse
calls into question many of these findings (Starr,
1988). One major problem is that few investigators
used matched comparison groups. Secondly, newer
studies fail to find premature or handicapped children at higher risk for abuse (Egeland and Vaughan,
1981; Starr et al., 1984).

Factors Associated with Sexual
Abuse of Children
There has been a great deal of research on the
characteristics of sexual abusers, but current
research has failed to isolate characteristics, especially demographic, social or psychological characteristics, that discriminate between sexual abusers
and nonabusers (Black, Heyman and Slep, 2001;
Quinsey, 1984).
One of the key questions raised in discussions
about sexual abuse is whether all children are at
risk for sexual abuse or whether some children,
because of some specific characteristic (e.g., age
or poverty status), are at greater risk than others
are. Current research is unclear as to definitive
factors that can predict future sexual abuse. Finkelhor, Moore, Hamby and Straus (1997) found
that a child’s sex does not necessarily predict later
victimization. However, Sedlak (1997) asserts that
female children are at an increased risk for sexual
abuse, and the relationship between a child’s sex-

ual victimization and age is also associated with
family structure and race.
Explaining the Abuse and Neglect of Children
Risk and protective factors do not, in and of themselves, explain why parents and caretakers abuse
and neglect their children. The earliest explanatory
theories and models focused on intra-individual factors to explain maltreatment. These models included
a psychopathological explanation that explained
abuse and neglect as a function of individual psychopathology. Other models proposed that maltreatment arose out of mental illness or the use and abuse
of alcohol and illicit drugs.
Later theories added social, cultural and environmental factors to the models. The major multidimensional models include:
Social learning theory. Social learning theory
proposes that individuals who experienced abuse
and neglect as children are more likely to maltreat
their own children than individuals who experienced no abuse or neglect. Children who either
experience abuse themselves or who witness violence between their parents are more likely to use
violence when they grow up. This finding has been
interpreted to support the idea that family violence
and caretaking is learned. The family is the institution and social group where people learn the roles
of husband and wife, parent and child. The home
is the prime location where people learn how to
deal with various stresses, crises and frustrations.
In many instances, the home is also the site where
a person first experiences violence and abuse. Not
only do people learn violent behavior, but also they
learn how to justify being violent. For example,
hearing father say “this will hurt me more than it
will hurt you,” or mother say, “you have been bad,
so you deserve to be spanked,” contributes to how
children learn to justify violent behavior.
Social situational/stress and coping theory. Social Situational/Stress and Coping Theory explains
why maltreatment occurs in some situations and
not others. The theory proposes that abuse and
neglect occur because of two main factors. The
first is structural stress and the lack of coping
resources in a family. For instance, the association
between low income and child abuse indicates that

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Introduction xix
an important contributor to the risk of abuse is
inadequate financial resources. The second factor
is the cultural norm concerning the use of force
and violence. In contemporary American society,
as well as many societies, violence in general, and
violence toward children in particular is normative (Straus, 1994). Thus, individuals learn to use
violence both expressively and instrumentally as a
means of coping with a pileup of stressor events.
Ecological theory. Garbarino (1977) and Belsky (1980; 1993) propose an ecological model to
explain the complex nature of child maltreatment.
The ecological model proposes that violence and
abuse arise out of a mismatch of parent to child
or family to neighborhood and community. For
example, parents who are under a great deal of
social stress and have poor coping skills may have
a difficult time meeting the needs of a child who
is hyperactive. The risk of abuse and violence
increases when the functioning of the children
and parents is limited and constrained by developmental problems such as children with learning disabilities and social or emotional handicaps,
and when parents are under considerable stress
or have personality problems, such as immaturity
or impulsiveness. Finally, if there are few institutions and agencies in the community to support
troubled families, then the risk of abuse is further
Exchange theory. Exchange theory proposes
that child rearing and child abuse is governed by
the principle of costs and benefits. Abuse is used
when the rewards are perceived as greater than
the costs (Gelles, 1983). The private nature of the
family, the reluctance of social institutions and
agencies to intervene—in spite of mandatory child
abuse reporting laws—and the low risk of other
interventions reduce the costs of abuse and neglect.
The cultural approval of violence as both expressive and instrumental behavior raises the potential
rewards for violence. The most significant reward
is social control, or power.
Sociobiology theory. A sociobiological, or evolutionary perspective of child maltreatment, suggests that the abuse and neglect of human or
nonhuman primate offspring is the result of the
reproductive success potential of children and
parental investment. The theory’s central assump-

tion is that natural selection is the process of differential reproduction and reproductive success
(Daly and Wilson, 1980). Males can be expected
to invest in offspring when there is some degree
of parental certainty (how confident the parent is
that the child is their own genetic offspring), while
females are also inclined to invest under conditions of parental certainty. Parents recognize their
offspring and avoid squandering valuable reproductive effort on someone else’s offspring. Thus,
Daly and Wilson (1985) conclude that parental
feelings are more readily and more profoundly
established with one’s own offspring than in cases
where the parent-offspring relationship is artificial. Children not genetically related to the parent (e.g., stepchildren, adopted or foster children)
or children with low reproductive potential (e.g.,
handicapped or retarded children) are at the highest risk for infanticide and abuse (Burgess and
Garbarino, 1983; Daly and Wilson, 1980; Hrdy,
1979). Large families can dilute parental energy
and lower attachment to children, thus increasing the risk of child abuse and neglect. (Burgess &
Drais-Parrillo, 2004).
Attachment Theory. Attachment theory describes the propensity of individuals to form a
strong emotional bond with a primary caregiver
who functions as a source of security and safety
(Bowlby, 1973). The theory proposes that there is a
clear association between early attachment experiences and the pattern of affectionate bonds one
makes throughout one’s lifetime. If an individual
has formed strong and secure attachments with
early caregivers, later adult relationships will also
have secure attachments. On the other hand, if an
individual has formed insecure, anxious or ambivalent attachments early on, later adult attachments
will be replicated similarly. Therefore, according to the theory, attachment difficulties underlie adulthood relational problems. Bowlby (1988)
posits that anxiety and anger go hand-in-hand
as responses to risk of loss and that anger is often
functional. For certain individuals with weak and
insecure attachments, the functional reaction to
anger becomes distorted and is manifested by violent acts against one’s partner.
A model of sexual abuse. Finkelhor (1984)
reviewed research on the factors that have been


xx The Encyclopedia of Child Abuse
proposed as contributing to sexual abuse of children
and developed what he calls the “Four Precondition Model of Sexual Abuse.” His review suggests
that all the factors relating to sexual abuse can be
grouped into one of four preconditions that must
be met before sexual abuse can occur. The preconditions are:
1. A potential offender needs to have some motivation to abuse a child sexually.
2. The potential offender has to overcome internal
inhibitions against acting on that motivation.
3. The potential offender has to overcome external
impediments to committing sexual abuse.
4. The potential offender or some other factor has
to undermine or overcome a child’s possible
resistance to sexual abuse.
Summary. The intra-individual models of child
abuse and neglect dominated the first decade
of research, practice and policy. Although some
professions still subscribe to psychopathological
explanations for child maltreatment, such narrow
models eventually gave way to more multidimensional approaches that included psychopathology,
but also considered social, environmental and cultural factors. Current theoretical approaches tend
to be based on the ecological model of child maltreatment (National Research Council, 1993).

The Consequences of Maltreatment
The consequences of child abuse and neglect differ
by the age of the child. During childhood some of
the major consequences of maltreatment include
problematic school performance and lowered
attention to social cues. Researchers have found
that children whose parents are “psychologically
unavailable” function poorly across a wide range
of psychological, cognitive and developmental
areas (Egeland and Sroufe, 1981). Physical aggression, antisocial behavior and juvenile delinquency
are among the most consistently documented consequences of abuse in adolescence and adulthood
(Aber et al., 1990; Dodge et al., 1990; Widom,
1989a; 1989b; 1991). Evidence is more suggestive
that maltreatment increases the risk of alcohol and
drug problems (National Research Council, 1993).

Ystgaard, Hestetun, Loeb and Mehlum (2004)
report that physical and sexual abuse are significantly and independently associated with repeated
suicide attempts. In other words, physical and
sexual abuse increase the risk of suicide attempts,
even when controlling for other adverse events
and situations children experience.
Research on the consequences of sexual abuse
finds that inappropriate sexual behavior, such as
frequent and overt sexual stimulation and inappropriate sexual overtures to other children, are
commonly found among victims of sexual abuse
(Kendall-Tackett et al., 1993). Roberts and his
colleagues (Roberts, O’Connor, Dunn, Golding
et. al., 2004) conducted a longitudinal study of
8,292 families and found that sexual abuse experienced before age 13 was associated with poorer
psychological well-being, teenage pregnancy and
adjustment problems in the victim’s own children.
Widom (1995) has found that people who were
sexually abused during childhood are at higher risk
of arrest for committing crimes as adults, including sex crimes, compared to people who did not
suffer sexual abuse. However, this risk is no greater
than the risk of arrest for victims of other childhood maltreatment, with one exception: Victims
of sexual abuse are more likely to be arrested for
prostitution than other victims of maltreatment.
As noted in the discussion of the extent of child
maltreatment, child neglect is by far the most
common form of maltreatment. While the more
dramatic forms of maltreatment—physical abuse
and sexual abuse—receive considerable attention
in terms of the impact on children, there is far
less research, and even concern, for the impact of
the chronic form of maltreatment: child neglect.
Hildyard and Wolfe (2002) reviewed the research
on the impact of child neglect and find considerable support for the conclusion that child neglect
produces significant developmental problems for
child victims. Neglect has a deleterious effect on
children’s cognitive, socioemotional and behavioral development. The earlier in life a child is
neglected, the more comprised the child’s development. The impact of neglect is somewhat unique,
producing more severe cognitive and academic
deficits, social withdrawal and limited peer interactions. Victims of neglect tend to internalize the

Introduction xxi
impact of that neglect as opposed to externalizing
through aggressive and violent behavior (Hildyard
and Wolfe, 2002).
As severe and significant as the consequences
of child abuse and neglect are, it is also important
to point out that the majority of children who are
abused and neglected do not show signs of extreme
disturbance. Despite having been physically, psychologically or sexually abused, many children
have effective coping abilities and thus are able to
deal with their problems better than other maltreated children. There are a number of protective
factors that insulate children from the effects of
maltreatment. These include: high intelligence and
good scholastic attainment; temperament; cognitive appraisal of events—how the child views the
maltreatment; having a healthy relationship with
a significant person; and the type of interventions,
including placement outside of the home (National
Research Council, 1993).

Witnessing Domestic Violence
Children who witness domestic violence are a
unique population warranting research and clinical attention (Rosenberg and Rossman, 1990).
Witnessing is at the intersection of child abuse and
neglect and domestic violence. Researchers and
clinicians report that children who witness acts of
domestic violence experience negative behavioral
and developmental outcomes, independent of any
direct abuse or neglect that they may also experience from their caretakers (Jaffe, Wolfe and Wilson, 1990; Osofsky, 1995; Rosenberg and Rossman,
1990). Estimates from the two National Family
Violence Surveys are that between 1.5 million and
3.3 million children three to 17 years of age are
exposed to domestic violence each year (Gelles and
Straus, 1988; Straus, Gelles and Steinmetz, 1980).

Prevention and Treatment
As noted earlier, all 50 states had enacted mandatory reporting laws for child abuse and neglect
by the late 1960s. These laws require certain professionals (or in some states, all adults) to report
cases of suspected abuse or neglect. When a report
comes in, state or local protective service workers

investigate to determine if the child is in need of
protection and if the family is in need of help or
assistance. Although a wide array of options are
available to child protection workers, they typically
have two basic ways to protect a victim of child
abuse: (a) removing the child and placing him or
her in a foster home or institution; or (b) providing
the family with social support, such as counseling,
food stamps, day care services, etc.
Neither solution is ideal, and there are risks in
both. For instance, a child may not understand
why he or she is being removed from the home.
Children who are removed from abusive homes
may be protected from physical damage, although
some children are abused and killed in foster
homes and residential placements. Abused children frequently require special medical and/or
psychological care and it is difficult to find a suitable placement for them. They could well become
a burden for foster parents or institutions that
have to care for them. Therefore, the risk of abuse
might even be greater in a foster home or institution than in the home of the natural parents. In
addition, removal may cause emotional harm. The
emotional harm arises from the fact that abused
children still love and have strong feelings for
their parents and do not understand why they
have been removed from their parents and homes.
Often, abused children feel that they are responsible for their own abuse.
Leaving children in an abusive home and providing social services involves another type of risk.
Most protective service workers are overworked,
undertrained and underpaid. Family services,
such as substance abuse treatment, crisis day
care, financial assistance and suitable housing
and transportation services, are limited. This can
lead to cases where children who were reported as
abused, investigated and supervised by state agencies are killed during the period when the family
was supposedly being monitored. Half of all children who are killed by caretakers are killed after
they have been reported to child welfare agencies
(Gelles, 1996).
Only a handful of evaluations have been made
of prevention and treatment programs for child
maltreatment. In Elmira, New York, Olds and his
colleagues (1986) evaluated the effectiveness of

xxii The Encyclopedia of Child Abuse
a family support program during pregnancy and
for the first two years after birth for low-income,
unmarried, teenage first-time mothers. Nineteen
percent of a sample of poor unmarried teenage
girls who received no services during their pregnancy period was reported for subsequent child
maltreatment. Of those children of poor, unmarried, teenage mothers who were provided with
the full compliment of nurse home visits during
the mother’s pregnancy and for the first two years
after birth, 4% had confirmed cases of child abuse
and neglect reported to the state child protection
agency. Subsequent follow-ups by the home health
visiting intervention worker demonstrated the
long-term effectiveness of this intervention. However, the effectiveness varied depending on the
populations receiving the service, the community
context and who made the visits (nurses or others)
(Olds, Henderson, Kitzman, Eckenrode, Cole and
Tatelbaum, 1999).
Daro and Cohn (1988) reviewed evaluations of
88 child maltreatment programs that were funded
by the federal government between 1974 and 1982.
They found that there was no noticeable correlation between a given set of services and the likelihood of further maltreatment of children. In fact,
the more services a family received, the worse the
family got and the more likely children were to be
maltreated. Lay counseling, group counseling and
parent education classes resulted in more positive
treatment outcomes. The optimal treatment period
appeared to be between seven and 18 months. The
projects that were successful in reducing abuse
accomplished this by separating children from
abusive parents, either by placing them in foster
homes or requiring the maltreating adult to move
out of the house.
The National Academy of Sciences panel on
“Assessing Family Violence Interventions” identified 78 evaluations of child maltreatment intervention programs that met the panel’s criteria for
methodologically sound evaluation research. The
one commonality of the 78 evaluations of child
abuse and neglect prevention and treatment programs was, in scientific terms, a failure to reject
the null hypothesis. While it may be too harsh
a judgment to say these programs have not and
do not work as intended, the National Research

Council report did come to the following conclusion regarding social service interventions:
Social service interventions designed to improve
parenting practices and provide family support have
not yet demonstrated that they have the capacity to
reduce or prevent abusive or neglectful behaviors
significantly over time for the majority of families
who have been reported for child maltreatment
(National Research Council, 1998, p. 118).

Thus, while we have made great strides in identifying child abuse and neglect as a social problem,
and we have developed numerous programs to
attempt to treat and prevent abuse and neglect, we
still have much to learn about what causes parents
and caretakers to abuse their children and what
steps society must take to prevent the maltreatment of children.
—Richard J. Gelles, Ph. D.,
Joanne and Raymond Welsh Chair of Child
Welfare and Family Violence
Director, Center Research on Youth and Social Policy
Director, Ortner-Unity Program on Family Violence
Codirector, Field Center for Children’s Policy,
Practice, and Research, School of Social Policy
& Practice
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
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