Physical Abuse & Neglect Treatment & Therapy

Child abuse is the physical, sexual, or emotional maltreatment or neglect of a child. While there are a number of types of child abuse the core element that binds them all together is the emotional effect it has on the child or teen. Children and teens need structure, predictability, clearly defined boundaries, and the understanding that their parents are looking out for his or her safety. Abused children don’t know how their parents will react and their world is a frightening, unpredictable place without rules. The end result is that a child or teen feels unsafe, not cared for, and very alone.

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Types of Child Physical Abuse and Neglect

Child physical abuse is the non-accidental physical injury to a child as a result of hitting, punching, burning, or otherwise harming a child. In some instances physical abuse to a child or teen occurs as a result of inappropriate or excessive physical punishment. There is, however, a difference between disciplining a child and physical abuse. Discipline is intended to teach children and teens right from wrong, not cause them to live in fear. Physical abuse contains the following elements:

  • Unpredictability
  • Acting out in anger
  • Using fear as a means to control behaviors

Child emotional abuse is when a child’s self-esteem or emotional well-being are injured. Emotional abuse includes both verbal and emotional assault such as constantly being belittled or berated as a child. Additionally, emotional abuse can include isolating, ignoring, or rejecting a child.

Child neglect is a very common form of child abuse and involves the failure of the caregiver to provide needed, age-appropriate care. A child who is neglected will not have their basic physical, emotional, medical, or educational needs met. There are several forms of child neglect which include:

  • Physical child neglect includes a failure to provide needed food or shelter or lack of supervision.
  • Medical child neglect includes the failure to provide medical or mental health treatment.
  • Educational child neglect is a failure to educate a child or attend to a child’s special education needs.
  • Emotional child neglect is the inattention to a child’s emotional needs, failure to provide psychological care, or allowing the child or teen to use alcohol or drugs.

In the case of child neglect sometimes, a parent or guardian may be physical or mentally unable to properly care for his or her child. Other times, parental drug or alcohol use can seriously impair judgment and the ability to keep a child safe and free from harm

Statistics

Each year in the United States, more than three million reports of child abuse are made involving over six million children. Among industrialized nations, the United States has one of the worst records, losing, on average, between four and seven children each day due to abuse and neglect; about 70% of those who die from abuse are under the age of 4. It’s estimated that between 50% and 60% of child fatalities due to maltreatment are not recorded as such on death certificates. Child abuse is a cycle; about 30% of children who were abused or neglected will later go on to abuse their own children.

Signs and Symptoms of Child Abuse and Neglect

A child who is being abused may be experiencing a whole lot of emotions, feeling ashamed or confused. They may be afraid to tell someone about the abuse, especially if they are being abused a parent. It is important to watch for red flags and act upon them. Specific signs and symptoms depend on the type of abuse. Some warning signs may include:

General signs and symptoms of child abuse:

  • Sudden changes in behavior or performance in school
  • Slower than normal development
  • Depression, anxiety, or sudden lose in self-confidence
  • Failure to thrive
  • Withdrawn from friends or other activities
  • Behaving in a way that isn’t appropriate of that causes problems
  • Unusual interaction with the parent
  • Reluctant to leave school activities
  • Attempts to run away
  • Apparent lack of supervision

Signs and symptoms of physical child abuse:

  • Fading bruises or other marks visible after a school absence
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Injuries that don’t match the given explanation
  • Untreated medical or dental problems

Signs and symptoms of emotional child abuse:

  • Loss of self-confidence or self-esteem
  • Headaches or stomachaches without a medical cause
  • Avoidance of certain situations such as refusing to go to school
  • Desperately seeks attention
  • Delayed or inappropriate emotional development

Signs and symptoms of child neglect:

  • Poor growth or weight gain
  • Poor hygiene
  • Frequent absences from school
  • Emotional mood swings that are out of context to situation
  • Indifference
  • Begs or steals food and/or money
  • Eats a lot in one sitting or hides food for later
  • Lacks appropriate, sufficient clothing for weather
  • Lacks necessary medical, dental care, immunizations, or glasses
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Child Physical Abuse and Neglect

All types of child abuse and neglect leave lasting scars; some may be physical but the emotional scarring can last a lifetime. The longer the abuse persists, the more serious the effects of this devastating maltreatment. Some of the common effects of physical abuse and neglect may include:

  • Impaired brain development
  • Long-term effects on language, cognitive, and academic abilities
  • Poor physical health
  • Isolation
  • Fear and inability to trust others
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Anger and aggression
  • Risk for developing mental health disorders such as borderline personality disorder
  • Problems with emotion regulation
  • Development of antisocial traits
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Low academic achievement, including grade repetition
  • Suicidal thoughts/behaviors
  • Self-injury
  • Self-destructive, risk-taking behaviors
  • Higher risks for rape and sexual risk-taking
  • Being involved in criminal activity
  • Truancy
  • Displaying abusive behavior

Treatment for Child Physical Abuse and Neglect

Treatment for child physical abuse and neglect should begin as soon as the abuse has been confirmed; the earlier treatment begins, the better the outcomes for recovery. The first step in treatment of any child abuse or neglect is to make certain a child or teen and his or her siblings are in a safe environment, away from his or her abuser. The sooner the child or teen is removed from the abusive environment, the better the chance they can make a physical and emotional recovery.

Physical injuries will be treated by medical staff, either at the hospital or doctor’s office, depending upon the severity of the injuries. Following treatment of any physical health concerns, a clinical assessment by a qualified mental health professional is recommended to identify treatment needs, strengths, and deficits. This type of assessment will address multiple areas of the child’s functioning as well as the child or teen’s family situation before and after disclosure or discovery of abuse. Assessment results will provide information about the specific types of treatment and therapies an abused or neglected child may need and should be addressed on a case-by-case basis depending upon the child’s needs. Goals for treatment should include:

  • Assist and encourage the child to talk and think about the abuse without shame or anxiety
  • Help child express feelings about the abuse
  • Reduce the intensity and frequency of behavioral and emotional symptoms
  • Clarify and change distorted, inaccurate, or unhealthy patterns of thinking that may negatively affect the child’s view of self or others
  • Strengthen child’s coping skills
  • Enhance social skills
  • Education regarding self-protective strategies
  • Reduce the feelings of stigma and isolation

Treatment of the physically abused or neglected child or teen will vary depending upon individual needs, type of abuse, and the age of the child. Treatment strategies may include:

  • Graduated exposure to parts of the abusive experiences to help reduce the child’s shame and anxiety about the abuse as well as modify incorrect and self-defeating patterns of thoughts
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy strategies address the child’s thinking patterns, affective response, and behavioral reactions to the abuse
  • Education about abuse and the effects of abuse can help clarify any misperceptions of the abuse
  • Skills training to teach child or teen coping strategies to manage negative emotions and improve social and interpersonal functioning
  • Supportive strategies as the child or teen may be facing unsupportive family members, upcoming court proceedings, and negative reactions from peers
  • Teaching self-protective strategies to reduce likelihood child will face additional abuse
  • Behavioral strategies designed to help the child learn that the abuse was not caused by something he or she did or said; the adult is responsible for the abuse
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