Topic 1: Recognizing Child Abuse and Neglect—Definitions and Indicators
Suspecting emotional maltreatment is challenging. The child will show no bruises or welts and may be appropriately fed and clothed. Yet some consider the damage caused by emotional maltreatment to exceed that of other forms of abuse and neglect. Adding to the challenge is that the child may not be able to disclose the maltreatment, as he or she may think that emotional maltreatment is part of normal parenting.
Emotional maltreatment is called “Mental Abuse” in Virginia Code. Emotional maltreatment includes patterns of the following behaviors:
•Ignoring a child
Emotional maltreatment is perhaps the most difficult form of abuse to define, yet its consequences can be devastating. In addition, it is likely that some element of emotional maltreatment is involved in other forms of abuse and neglect.
Caregiver actions that may be considered emotionally abusive include patterns of:
•Ignoring or rejecting
•Seeming unconcerned about a child’s problems
•Holding impossible expectations without regard to developmental capability
It can be very hard to tell the difference between less-than-optimal parenting and emotional maltreatment. Remember, like neglect, emotional maltreatment hinges on the consequences to the child. If the child has persistent, adverse reactions to caregiver behaviors like the ones mentioned above, emotional maltreatment may be suspected.
Emotionally maltreated children often show:
•Non-organic failure to thrive (infants)
The range of possible behavioral indicators of emotional maltreatment include:
•Habit disorders (sucking, biting, rocking)
•Conduct disorders (antisocial, destructive)
•Neurotic traits (sleep disorders, inhibition of play)
•Behavioral extremes (compliant, passive, undemanding, aggressive, demanding, raging)
•Overly adaptive behavior (inappropriately adult, inappropriately infantile and needy)
•Self-destructive behavior and suicide attempts
•Cruelty; seemingly taking pleasure in hurting other people or animals
The developmental delays that are apt to accompany emotional maltreatment include delays in emotional development and can have a significant effect on a child’s ability to age-appropriately handle his or her emotions and social interactions. For example, emotional abuse can be seen as a self-fulfilling prophecy. If a child is degraded enough, the child will begin to live up to the image communicated by the emotionally abusive parent or caretaker. This will affect the child’s relationships with others and his or her sense of self-worth.
The developmental delays that are apt to accompany emotional maltreatment include delays in cognitive development and can have a significant effect on a child’s academic performance.