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Physical Abuse and Neglect

If you strike a child, take care that you 
strike it in anger, even at the risk of 
maiming it for life. A blow in cold blood
neither can nor should be forgiven.

                                                                                                                                      G.B. Shaw, Maxims for Revolutionaries

Strangers can be dangerous to a child, but the biggest risk is from the parents or others known to the child. These are the individuals who have access to the child. The child is a helpless and dependent target for someone to vent his inability to cope.

Frequently, the parent thinks the child deserves to be disciplined. They are only doing “what was done to them.” These people were cruelly treated when they were children, and their anger and stored-up frustration spills into the next generation.

One of the factors that determines whether punishment is abuse is the self-control of those administering it. Do they lose control when they are inflicting discipline? Are they acting out of frustration? Everyone recognizes the parents’ right to train and discipline their child, so long as it is reasonable.

Questions to determine if punishment is reasonable:

• Is the child old enough to understand why he or she is being disci- plined?
• Is the punishment appropriate to the deed or misbehavior?
• Does the punishment shame the child?
• Is physical force applied “out of control?”
• Is the punishment beyond the child’s endurance?

No misbehavior justifies action that puts the child at risk. This includes punishment that requires medical treatment. Blisters, welts, burns are too extreme. An injury to the eye or broken bones are considered abuse. Assault to the head of any child of any age is considered unreasonable, and no child under the age of three should ever be spanked.

A normal two year-old is immature and innocent and naturally explores and investigates the world to gain some experience of it. His trust is destroyed when his parents or caretakers are unstable and unpredictable. He deserves to be protected and kept from harm.

A toddler needs close supervision at all times. He can climb out an open upper-story window and fall to his death; he is not aware of the consequences of traffic and will run in front of a vehicle. Because of the early stage of his development, it is not feasible to expect mature behavior.

News story:

A young man was arrested and booked for investigation into the death of his girlfriend’s eighteen month-old daughter. The baby was crying incessantly, and in his frustration, he threw her against the wall. The girlfriend said he often lost his temper and assaulted her, but she insisted he never hit her children.

A child can be injured not by adults alone; he can also injure himself. An infant can roll off a bed or changing table and injure him or herself, or a crawling baby can fall downstairs. Both these incidents are the result of neglect.

Injuries to children can be divided into two categories:

Abuse: injuries that are inflicted by another person.
Neglect: injuries resulting from not protecting the child.

Every active child gets hurt or injured at sometime or another. Some children are more adventurous or "accident prone" than others. But some injuries have telltale characteristics that make them appear different from expected injuries of childhood.

Factors that suggest a "suspicious" injury:

Age of the child: Was he able to do this?

Shape of the injury: You can see the shape of an iron or belt buckle.

Location of the injury: It is difficult for a child to injure his upper thigh or upper arm.

Force needed to produce the injury: It takes a great deal of force to.bruise or break a bone; a heavy blow is needed to cause internal injuries.

Type of injury: Human bite marks or burns caused by a cigarette.

Marks clearly made by pinching.

Numerous injuries to different parts of the body.

Injuries in different stages of healing: Suggest repeated beating.

Skull fractures: Eggshell pattern suggests the head hit a hard surface; a skull fracture on the same side of the head injury suggests it was caused by a blow.

Bald patches: Caused by extreme hair pulling.

Burns: especially on the back of the body and legs.

Puncture wounds

Spiral fractures of the leg or foot: Suggests the child or baby was roughly yanked from a place where his foot was caught, as between cushions on a couch.

Marks on the neck: as in a choke hold.

Shins, arms and knees are the places children hurt themselves in play. The child usually leads with his chin when he falls. One black eye and no injury to the nose is suspicious. Immersion burns convey the message that the child was dunked in hot water. There will be rope burns on wrists or feet of a child who has been tied up.

More children die from physical neglect or endangerment than abuse. Child neglect is defined as acts of omission or failure to meet the basic needs of a child.

Basic needs of a child:

•  food
•  shelter
•  clothing
•  medical care
•  safe environment
•  supervision and training
•  education

Sometimes child neglect is harder to identify than physical abuse. There are a variety of reasons for this, mainly social and cultural.

Infants need to be touched, held and fed. They also need to be bathed and kept clean. Erik Erikson says the first developmental task is the establishment of an inner sense of being which is characterized by trusting the outside world.

An infant that is not held or fed when hungry will fail to thrive, and this is significant enough to interfere with the growth of the child. Failure-to-thrive babies are often irritable, wide-eyed and hard to pacify. Because the baby is fussy, the parents become frustrated and angry. This is a round-robin situation. The cycle of abuse continues.

News story:

A woman pleaded innocent to felony child abuse charges in the death of her three year-old foster daughter who died after she allegedly was forced to drink massive amounts of water. Prosecutors said the woman punished the girl by ordering her to drink up to three liters of water. Bruises and bite marks were also found on the girl’s body.

The neglect of a child can be the result of a misunderstanding or ignorance:

A mother does not know how to dilute the concentrated formula causing diarrhea and dehydration in her child. The problem was a language barrier; the woman could not read the directions.

Time after time there are newspaper accounts of children being left alone. Sometimes this is discovered because one child has shot another after finding a gun and experimenting with it.

News story:

"I broke my eye, and I can’t breathe very well. Hurry," a panicked six year-old boy told a 911 dispatcher. The six year-old was seriously injured after being left alone in the house. He lit one of his father’s M-80 explosives that he found lying around. The boy said he found two firecrackers on a cushion of a rocking chair in the living room. Next to the firecrackers was a charcoal lighter. After several attempts he lit the lighter, and then he lit the explosives. It blew up in his face and he called 911. He said he had often seen his father set them off in the past. "When we’re watching a movie or something and the dog keeps barking, Daddy throws them across the road at the dog."

The boy was just satisfying his curiosity and doing what he had seen his dad do many times. It is child neglect to have dangerous items lying about where a child can get them.

Hazards around the home:

dangerous vicious dogs; a large dog can be dangerous to have around a small child.
presence of a person who can pose a threat to the child
gas leaks
exposed blades, dangerous tools, such as an electric saw
doors that lead nowhere
unsanitary conditions
poisonous substances
exposed electric outlets
hot liquid or food on the stove
table cloth that a child can pull so that heavy things fall on him
ropes on curtains or shades: child can hang himself.
small objects that a baby is likely to put in her mouth
large open pails of water
unguarded swimming pool

When there is a child around, look at the environment through his eyes. Child-proof the place according to his age. Never take chances.

A child drowning in a home pool or bathtub, a child cutting himself with a sharp knife, or a child shooting his friend are all "accidents" that should not happen. When a child is around, the name of the game is vigilance.

A parent’s religious beliefs do not justify withholding needed medical care for a serious condition. Medical neglect is when parents fail to have their children immunized according to state law. Sometimes a child needs glasses or a hearing aid, and the parents fail to provide the needed medical care. This failure can be a result of misunderstanding, ignorance or poverty. Poverty is not always an excuse. There are free clinics to provide immunizations and there are programs to get the necessary aids.

There have been deaths to infants as a result of being locked in a car or left in their car seats. The heat in a closed auto builds up to hazardous levels. Another act of physical neglect is leaving a ten or nine year-old child in charge of younger children. The responsibility is too much for a child of this age, it doesn’t matter how "dependable" the child is. Young children do not have the experience to act in an emergency, nor should they have to.

Many times, a child of three or four years of age is allowed to roam the neighborhood unsupervised. This is an act of endangerment.

A child is entitled to a clean environment; urine-soaked mattresses or furniture are not acceptable, nor is a housing infested with insects, mice or rats. A family living under these circumstances needs to be investigated. If the place is in a great disarray, it is not an environment that is nurturing.

There is a decay in the world today. Children are abusing children.

News story:

Despite his brother’s frantic effort to save him, a five year-old boy was dropped to his death from the fourteenth floor window of a housing project in Chicago because he wouldn’t steal candy for two older boys. These older boys were ten and eleven years old and already had criminal records.

"It is truly mind-boggling," said the prosecutor. "Every day you think you’ve seen as bad as it’s ever going to get here, and something like this happens."

The brother who tried to save the five year-old was only eight years old. "The expression on his face is changed," says the boy’s aunt. It is a certain fact that more than the expression on his face has changed for this boy.

This killing was the second horrific episode of child-against-child violence in Chicago in little more than a month. The month before, eleven year-old Robert "Yummy" Sandifer was found shot to death after he became the subject of a police search in the shooting of a fourteen year-old girl.

Police said "Yummy" was killed by fellow gang members worried about the intense police investigation to solve the girl’s death. The boys charged with his death were fourteen and sixteen.

Both the victims and the offenders are getting younger. Regardless of whatever "Yummy" may have done, he was a little boy who was abused and tortured by people who should have loved him. It would seem that we, as a society, have allowed our culturally deprived to breed "unwanted" offspring only to leave them to fend for themselves. These children become tomorrow’s criminals. They’re illiterate, abused and neglected and have no sense of morality. They show no remorse or compassion. They live by their wits and are dangerous.

This subject will be discussed again in a later chapter. The problem is that the abusive or neglectful parent is not the consistent, nurturing parent that is required to raise a child to his full potential.

It is the easiest thing in the world to become a parent, and the hardest and most important job to be one.

Abuse always involves the human body. In sexual abuse the body is the object of the abuse. This is the topic of the next chapter.

Child abuse takes many forms, and there are degrees of severity among each of those. There is a victim-of-a-victim syndrome. There is a fine line between normal parental discipline and abusive physical treatment, and it varies from culture to culture. 

Some people discipline their children exactly as they were disciplined as children. What is considered abuse today was not considered abuse then. "Take the boys out behind the shed and give them a good thrashing" was the norm long ago.

Any discipline that causes bleeding, blisters, welts or broken bones is excessive.
Most children love their parents, and yet everyone can remember an incident that was not memorable.

Today children are abusing children. There is a generation of "unwanted" children that have never had love or stability in their lives. They are living by whatever means they can. They have lost sight of what is right and what is wrong. It is "whatever it takes to survive."

More children die from physical neglect than physical abuse. Sometimes only one child is neglected in the family; other times all the children are neglected. A chronically neglected child will be depressed and demonstrates a failure to attach.

Some adults may have expectations of a child that are not appropriate for the child’s age.
Child neglect can result in a variety of physical and emotional problems for the child.

There are over two million cases of child abuse reported annually in the United States. Ninety percent of all fatal child abuse and neglect cases involve children under the age of five.