Almost 75% of children ages 2-4 in the United States in 2020 faced regular physical or emotional abuse from caregivers. Children from all socioeconomic levels are abused and neglected at the same rate, but abuse and neglect in impoverished families are more frequently reported and investigated. Similarly, race and child abuse rates are not linked, but a significant difference exists between race and the likelihood that a child will be removed from the home due to abuse. Compared to white children, African American children are four times more likely to be placed in foster care, American Indian and Native Alaskan children are three times more likely, and Hispanic children are twice as likely. No matter the race or socioeconomic status, the child factors that increase the likelihood of abuse include age, oppositional behavior, special needs, and developmental delays.
Parent factors greatly contribute to the prevalence of child abuse. If a parent was abused as a child or currently experiences domestic violence, they are more likely to abuse their children. Additionally, low self-esteem, untreated mental illness, substance abuse, financial trouble, developmental disabilities, impulsiveness, sense of entitlement, and personality disorders are all parent qualities that increase the likelihood of abuse. Some parents are simply not clear about what actually constitutes child abuse or neglect in their state.
Attachment to a primary caregiver is directly linked to healthy child development. When this attachment is disrupted by abuse or neglect, child development is adversely affected. Children may have a distrust of adults or authority figures, resistance to affection, dissociation, difficulty recognizing facial or social cues, reduced empathy, poor emotional self-regulation, or low self-esteem. Adults who have been abused as children often show signs of mental illness, substance abuse, obesity, risk sexual behaviors, and social problems.
Prevention is the best way to ensure that caregiver or family problems are managed before abuse happens. Educational parenting programs that spread awareness about the healthy development of children and the impact of child abuse are available in each state. Delaware's education parenting programs can be found here.
Parent-Child Interaction Therapy is a parent skill-building and relationship enhancement program that can help parents better manage their children’s misbehavior, ultimately reducing parent stress and the likelihood of abuse. Caregivers seeking professional treatment for mental health and substance abuse can help mitigate the effects of personal stressors. Through therapy, parents can learn to recognize their signs of stress, practice asking for help from a support system, learn coping skills to better manage stress, and incorporate new communication patterns with children.
Child abuse is often passed down through generations; interrupting the cycle is the most effective way to stop the spread of child mistreatment. Call 2-1-1 if you are a parent experiencing multiple challenges at home and need to be connected to community resources. For quick tips on preventing child abuse in infants, click here.
Signs of abuse in children include a change in behavior (i.e. increase in aggressiveness), bed-wetting, withdrawal from usual interests, frequent absences, anxiety about going home, unexplained injuries healing at different stages, hypersexual behavior, or decreased school performance. If you suspect abuse in Delaware, you can make an online report here or call 1-800-292-9582.