Treatment for Physical Abuse & Neglect Trauma

Child abuse refers to any type of emotional, physical, or sexual mistreatment of, or neglect of, a child. More specifically, according to Child Welfare Information Gateway, the Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act defines child abuse and neglect as, “Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.”

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Statistics

In the United States alone, there are approximately three million reports of child abuse every year. Additionally, estimates have shown that one in ten children suffer from some form of child maltreatment and one in sixteen children are made subject to sexual abuse. Tragically, research has shown that more than four children die every day as a result of child abuse and that 70% of those deaths are of children under the age of four.

Types of Child Abuse

Emotional abuse of a child refers to the infliction of psychological damage onto a child. While any type of maltreatment can lead to severe emotional damage, there are also specific types of behaviors that are defined as emotional abuse. Limiting physical contact with a child (e.g. not hugging, kissing, or providing a child with any type of affection), ignoring or rejecting a child, calling a child names, and belittling, humiliating, or shaming a child are all forms of emotional abuse. Telling a child that he or she is bad, worthless, or a mistake is also considered psychological mistreatment. Additionally, exposing a child to the abuse of or violence against others can be classified as emotional abuse.

Child neglect refers to the failure of a parent or other type of caregiver to provide for a child by meeting his or her basic needs. Not providing food, clothing, shelter, or appropriate supervision are all forms of neglect. Additionally, not meeting a child’s medical or educational needs is considered to be neglect, as is not attending to a child’s emotional needs.

Physical abuse of a child refers to the infliction of intentional physical harm to a child by a parent, caregiver, or other individual who is responsible for the child’s welfare. Physical abuse can include such acts as beating, hitting, punching, kicking, shaking, throwing, suffocating, choking, burning, stabbing, poisoning, or deliberately inducing illness. Although somewhat controversial, spanking is not considered to be physical abuse when it does not inflict bodily injury onto the child. However, discipline that is imposed on a child that is inappropriate for his or her age or physical condition is considered to be abuse.

Signs and Symptoms of Child Abuse or Neglect

It is not always obvious when a child is being abused or neglected. However, there are some common warning signs that will present themselves and, by learning what those signs are, it can aid in helping to identify when a child is being mistreated in some way. When one can identify the signs, the more likely it is that the perpetrators of child abuse can be caught and the children who are being abused can get the help that they so desperately need.

The following are some of the most common warning signs that may indicate the presence of different types of child abuse:

Warning signs of emotional abuse:

  • Child shows sudden changes in behavior or academic performance
  • Child is excessively withdrawn from those around him or her
  • Child appears constantly afraid or anxious about doing something wrong
  • Child acts inappropriately for his or her age – either acting much older or much younger than he or she actually is
  • Child’s behavior is extreme in nature (e.g. extremely compliant or extremely demanding)
  • Child does not appear to have any type of attachment to his or her parent or caregiver

Warning signs of neglect:

  • Child shows sudden changes in behavior or academic performance
  • Child’s clothes do not fit properly, are not clean, and/or are not weather appropriate (e.g. wearing t-shirts in the winter without having a jacket)
  • Child consistently lacks personal hygiene (e.g. unbathed, matted hair, teeth are not brushed, noticeable body odor, etc.)
  • Child is noticeably underweight due to not being substantially fed
  • Child is frequently late or absent from school
  • Child presents with untreated physical injuries or unaddressed illnesses
  • Child is often left alone at home or is allowed to play in unsafe environments

Warning signs of physical abuse:

  • Child shows sudden changes in behavior or academic performance
  • Child has frequent injuries, including unexplained cuts, bruises, or scars
  • Child wears clothes that are inappropriate for the weather in order to hide visible injuries (e.g. wearing long-sleeved shirts on hot days)
  • Child appears to have a heightened startle response; seems to always be on alert or excessively watchful of his or her surroundings
  • Child shies away from physical touch
  • Child flinches at sudden movements
  • Child displays a fear of going home

Long-Term Effects of Child Abuse and Neglect

Regardless of the type of abuse that is inflicted upon a child, the long-term effects can be vast and extreme. Children who are victims of abuse often feel that they are bad or that they have done something wrong and therefore deserve to be abused. This inner turmoil can last long into adulthood. Some examples of the various long-term effects that being the victim of childhood abuse may elicit can include:

  • Onset of developmental delays
  • Development of speech disorders or other communication disorders
  • Development of learning disorders
  • Development of eating disorders
  • Ongoing feelings of worthlessness
  • Ongoing feelings of guilt and shame
  • Extremely low self-esteem
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Beginning to use drugs and/or alcohol
  • Difficulty developing and maintaining strong, healthy interpersonal relationships
  • Lacking the ability to trust others
  • Experiencing extreme difficulty regulating one’s emotions
  • Becoming emotionally numb
  • Developing physical illnesses, such as ulcers and chronic headaches and stomachaches
  • Academic failure
  • Inability to obtain and maintain occupational success
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.

Treatment for Child Abuse and Neglect

The irreversible psychological and emotional consequences of being the victim of childhood abuse and neglect are detrimental and can have an extremely negative impact on an individual’s life. While there is no cure for the lasting turmoil that being subjected to abuse inflicts on a person, there are treatment options available that can help people overcome their negative experiences and develop the coping skills needed to move forward and put their experiences behind them so that they can lead the full, happy lives that they deserve to have.

In many cases, residential treatment centers that specialize in treating trauma can be the best place for children who are victims of abuse and neglect to receive the thorough treatment that they need. By entering into a residential treatment program, children are, first and foremost, entering into a safe environment where they are protected from the perpetrators of the abuse that was imposed upon them. In this setting, these children will have the support of mental health professionals and trauma specialists who can help them work through the emotions they have regarding their past experiences. Through the use of various therapeutic interventions, these children can learn that they are not to blame for what happened to them and they can develop the tools needed to appropriately process through and manage their emotions. Additionally, residential treatment centers provide children with a place where they can have the support of other children and adolescents who may have had similar experiences, giving them a sense of comfort in knowing that they are not alone. In this safe and supportive environment, children can learn the importance of healthy relationships and boundaries, learn how to trust again, and find ultimate healing.

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