Child Abuse, from Life in the USA: The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans

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Life in the USA
American Community
Child Abuse

Child Abuse
This material courtesy of Juanita Harris.

Every year there are three million reports of child abuse in America. When a parent or caretaker acts, or fails to act in a way that presents imminent risk of serious harm to a child it is considered abuse. This includes causing or not preventing serious physical or emotional abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation and death. Most of the States recognize four types of abuse: emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect.

In the year 2004 there were 872,000 proven cases of abuse in America. The majority of those cases involved neglect. When you neglect a child, you are failing to provide him or her with the basic needs & supervision to live a healthy and happy life. 1,490 children died as a result of physical abuse or neglect in 2004, and more than one third of these deaths were recognized as a direct result of neglect. The majority of child fatalities involved children younger than four-years-old. Studies show that in most cases the abuser was the child's parent.

While it is proven that parents are usually the abuser, there is no consistent set of characteristics or personality traits that have been associated with abusive parents or caretakers. However, in many circumstances there may still be signs that indicate abuse is present. An abusive parent may show signs such as a lack of concern for the child and blaming the child for problems in school or at home. The abuser may see the child as worthless or burdensome. The parent and child may both consider their relationship negative and state that they do like each other. Unlike a normal, loving family, the parent and child will be unaffectionate and may avoid looking at each other. Most abused children have difficulty concentrating, show sudden changes in behavior and seem withdrawn or passive. When a child is abused a report must be made in order for child protective services to intervene and help the child.

Each State has a system set up to deal with and respond to reports of abuse. Anyone can report abuse. Many states have a toll-free telephone number to call to make a report. When abuse is reported child protective service agencies are legally required to respond. The report is screened to determine its validity. If and when a valid report has been made an investigation will begin to determine whether or not the child has been abused or is at risk of being harmed.

In cases of sexual abuse and severe physical abuse or neglect, law enforcement agents will respond. Child protective services may also use the court system to order families to participate, or to have children removed from the home. In criminal cases of child abuse an abuser may be sentenced to prison. Criminal cases may include sexual abuse, or abuse that results in death or hospitalization.

In many situations, in-home services may be offered for families. Sometimes there may be a short-term removal from the home while assessments are done. Child protective services will determine what the family needs in order to care for the child. Federal and state funds are used to work with families and may provide parenting classes, medical, housing and other assistance to needy families.

In the year 2006, the Bush Administration asked Congress to allow States to use Federal foster care funds for a broader range of services. As a result, $27 million in American funding was made available to help improve state child protective service programs and another $42.4 million in funding went to community-based child abuse prevention programs. Although there were 872,000 substantial cases of abuse in 2004, the number had dropped from the 906,000 substantial cases in 2003. This 34,000-drop in the number of victims is encouraging. The additional funding will help to create more effective child abuse prevention methods. It is anticipated that the numbers will continue to drop as awareness is spread.

For more information on child abuse in America visit www.childwelfare.gov.


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