Child abuse refers to the maltreatment of a child by the parent or caregiver. It could also include neglect and might be physical, psychological, or sexual. Here, the parent or caregiver might fail to act causing actual and perceived harm to the kid. Abuse can occur at home, schools, or neighborhoods. Understanding the causes and effects of child abuse will help with the formulation of effective prevention strategies.
Child abuse remains a global concern as it affects all cultures. Not all kids exposed to similar abuse experiences are impacted in the same way. For others, the effects of abuse could be chronic while some might experience less serious outcomes (Mark et al, 2019). There are other factors that affect a kid’s vulnerability in the face of abuse. When there are few protective factors around an abused child, the risk of chronic outcomes increases. Risk factors that might lead to poor outcomes for abused and neglected children are a socio-economic disadvantage, depressed or alcoholic caregivers, social isolation, and when a kid is disabled (Jaffee & Maikovich-Fong, 2011). Factors leading to a kid’s resilience are aspects of the family environment such as quality of parenting, child attributes such as self-esteem, and community resources such as the school environment (Hunter, 2012). The main factors influencing the manner in which child abuse impacts kids include length and frequency of maltreatment. It also includes the co-occurrence of numerous kids of maltreatment.
Chronic maltreatment is connected with adverse effects. They occur over a long period of time. Research establishes the connection between different kinds of maltreatment (Mark et al, 2019). In other words, a high number of kids experiencing childhood abuse are subjected to more than one kind of violation. In addition, other kinds of victimization, for instance, bullying will always co-occur with child abuse. It has further been established that those experiencing different kinds of abuses will suffer high trauma levels. They will also experience more adverse effects. People experiencing trauma and abuse in childhood suffer negative effects in the later stages of life. Trauma can leave one without stress management skills. Focus has also been on the relationship between child abuse and drug abuse. More cases of child abuse have been reported among adults suffering from substance abuse disorders (Mark et al, 2019). Though alcohol consumption and use of drugs could be a coping mechanism in handling trauma, given that this population has a high impulsivity level, the odds of drug use might increase in the future.
There are different effects that are associated with child abuse. One is the emotional effect. Kids who are always ignored brutalized and shamed suffer as much as if they were subjected to physical torture (Mark et al, 2019). The child’s brain development is impacted by and responds to external experiences. These experiences could be from the family, guardians, and community. Kids who are abused might become insecure, show poor development and suffer low self-esteem (Maul et al, 2019). Most of them experience consistent challenges with trust, academic performance, relationships while some withdraw socially.
Babies can be affected differently compared to older kids. Babies and pre-school kids experiencing emotional abuse might show extreme love and attachment to strangers. They could develop anxiety or lack confidence (Mark et al, 2019). In addition, they may tend to withdraw from their parents and become aggressive towards other kids and animals. On the other hand, older kids might use bad language or behave differently from other kids of their age. They will face challenges controlling emotions, lack social skills, and become isolated from friends and parents. Reactive attachment disorder has also been reported among abused kids. This condition is described as disturbing social relatedness (Mark et al, 2019). It normally starts before one attains the age of 5. This condition could occur as a chronic failure to respond to social situations.
There have been suggestions to the effect that child abuse can make someone empathetic. In other words, an abused child will grow up understanding the pain that other people go through (Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2014). He or she will be sensitive to the challenges other abused kids are facing and understanding the agony of their experiences. One can only be recognized that a person has been violated if he or she has been through the same experience. This is because it is easy to recognize the signs. Every broken or wounded person will always remain in the heart of an abused child given that it reflects the torment he or she went through. On the other hand, being an empathetic person with thorough knowledge of what it entails to be abused, one is more likely to offer love, care, and support to those facing similar challenges (Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2014). This is true to the adage “water seeks its own level.”
Though there have been few studies on the long-term effects of emotional abusers, recent studies have now recorded these effects. It must be emphasized that emotional abuse is connected with increased levels of depression, poor relationships, and anxiety (Mark et al, 2019). It is highly likely for victims of abuse to engage in juvenile delinquency. In addition, kids are affected by domestic violence. Despite the fact that it is not the kid being abused, there are negative effects from witnessing domestic violence. In the same vein, it has been established that 36.8 percent of kids are involved in felony assault as opposed to 47.5 percent of abused kids (Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2014). Research has established that kids who are subjected to domestic violence are vulnerable to behavioral and emotional difficulties such as depression, anxiety, poor performance in school, and language development issues. In general, emotional impacts attributed to child abuse can lead to short and long-term effects that impact the child’s development in the end.
Child abuse can also cause physical effects. The immediate effects of abuse could be minor including bruises and cuts. They could also be severe, for instance, fractures and even death. In other instances, the physical effects are short-term (Mark et al, 2019). Despite this, the pain and suffering a child experiences must not be discounted. Physical abuse might be accompanied by rib fractures. There are long-term effects of abuse on physical health. One is the shaken baby syndrome. A prevalent form of child abuse is shaking the baby which leads to permanent neurological damage or death (Morad et al, 2010). The damage is caused by intracranial hypertension following bleeding in the brain. It can also come due to damage to the neck and the spinal cord or fractures. Brain development can also be impaired. In other instances, child abuse could impede the formation or growth of important brain areas. This can lead to impaired development. Structural changes in the brain caused by child abuse include reduced corpus callosum density and smaller brain volume (Davis, 2011). These changes in brain development have major repercussions for cognitive, educational, and language abilities. On the other hand, these changes can affect the amygdala. They can also impact the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dealing with stress response, in turn causing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
It has been suggested that maltreatment can help ensure that someone avoids sociopath tendencies. The argument is that maltreatment can make one wise (Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2014). Those who have not been mistreated might not even understand that their selfishness poses serious effects on others. The history of child abuse should never be used as an excuse for bad behavior in the future. This is because when one finally gets out of the abuse, he or she discovers that they have developed the skills to help entertain themselves in different situations. Moreover, they will realize that they can actually inspire others (Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2014). In a nutshell, a history of child abuse should be able to make one stronger and better and ruin his life.
However, research has reiterated poor physical health as another effect of child abuse. Household dysfunction and maltreatment of the kid are linked to numerous physical and psychological impacts such as ill-health during childhood and subsequent stages of development (Thornberry & Henry, 2013). This is accompanied by increased cases of chronic conditions, reduced lifespan, and risky health behaviors. It is more likely for adults who were subjected to abuse as kids to experience physical ailments including allergies, ulcers, hypertension, and asthma. In addition, they are more likely to develop cancer in addition to immune dysfunction. A connection has been established between child abuse and impaired telomerase function. On the same note, a recent study established that there is a link between particular neurochemical changes and exposure to abuse. A number of biological pathways could result in the development of illness (Keeshin et al, 2012). On the other hand, some physiological mechanisms could help moderate the manner in which chronic illnesses affect patients of previous abuse
It is important to take rapid measures that can help ensure this problem is addressed with the seriousness that it deserves. Involvement of all stakeholders is warranted in ensuring that this problem is addressed (Maul et al, 2019). This is because child abuse is not only a complex issue, rather is accompanied by numerous challenges. These challenges are aggravated by limited resources in terms of staff availability and time. In addition, it is accompanied by numerous legal and social constraints and poor implementation of laws that aim to protect the child. Healthcare providers have a major role to play when it comes to child abuse prevention and management (Maul et al, 2019). Although they have the ability to detect abuse, in the absence of strong and effective social organizations, there would be a lack of clarity as regards the form of intervention that should be taken into consideration. Healthcare providers must be supported at the institutional level. This can be achieved through a combination of strategies such as training, hospital guidelines and mentorship, and assistance from the seniors. It is important to acknowledge the effect of culture in order to prevent the adoption of ineffective solutions founded on systems developed nations with immense resources (Maul et al, 2019). The impact of societal challenges must also be taken into consideration.
In conclusion, child abuse can present serious effects if left unmanaged. A number of physical and psychological functions are impaired in persons with a history of abuse and neglect. Given that child abuse is a problem that affects the entire society, all stakeholders must join hands to ensure that his problem is solved. Most important would be the role of healthcare providers who have the ability to detect abuse. Adequate resources must be provided to ease the work of these providers. In addition, there is a need for more research to examine the connection between child abuse, physical and psychological functioning as a component of the severity of abuse. Together with previous research, these findings might result in the development of effective intervention strategies. If implemented appropriately, these interventions can help alleviate the adverse neurological effects of abuse. Therefore, this would allow for improved functioning that could be of great benefit to victims in their lives.
- Australian Institute of Family Studies. (2014). Effects of child abuse and neglect for children and adolescents. Retrieved from https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/effects-child-abuse-and-neglect-children-and-adolescents
- Davies, D. (2011). Child development: A practitioner’s guide (3rd Ed.). New York: The Guilford Press
- Keeshin, B., Cronholm, P., & Strawn, J. (2012). Physiologic changes associated with violence and abuse exposure: An examination of related medical conditions. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 2012; 13(1): 41-56
- Mark, C., Poltavski, D., & Petros. T. (2019). Differential executive functioning in young adulthood as a function of experienced child abuse. International Journal of Psychophysiology 135 (2019) 126–135
- Maul, K., Naeem, R., & Khan, U. (2019). Child abuse in Pakistan: A qualitative study of knowledge, attitudes and practice amongst health professionals. Child Abuse & Neglect 88 (2019) 51–57
- Morad, Y., Wygnansky-Jaffe, T., & Levin, A. (2010). Retinal hemorrhage in abusive head trauma. Clin Exp Ophthalmol. 38 (5): 514–520
- Thornberry, T., & Henry, K. (2013). Intergenerational continuity in maltreatment. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 41 (4): 555–569