Education: Keeping an Eye out for Child Maltreatment
Child maltreatment is a significant impediment to typical cognitive and emotional child development. As evidenced by lowered test scores and decreased graduation rates among children who have experienced maltreatment, research suggests that child abuse and neglect also hinders one's educational achievement. For the purposes of this review, the effects of three types of child maltreatment will be considered (i.e. physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect). While the long-term sequelea of different forms of maltreatment varies, the overall cost of maltreatment will be considered in an effort to determine policies and programs that may be effective in the prevention of these acts of harm.
RATES OF MALTREATMENT AND ITS FINANCIAL COSTS
Child maltreatment is a significant and all too common problem for communities, schools, and families. According to the 2011 Child Maltreatment Report published annually by the US Department of Health and Human Services, there were more than 695,000 victims of child maltreatment in 2010. When incidents of child maltreatment are reviewed, the number skyrockets to more than 754,000. This increase demonstrates the unfortunate realization that many victims of maltreatment experience abuse and neglect repeatedly throughout the year and often-throughout their lifetimes. In addition to the emotional costs associated with maltreatment, it is also financially expensive. Federal, state, and local governments 23 billion dollars on child welfare. This number has increased by more than 40% since 1996.
RISK FACTORS FOR MALTREATMENT
The perpetrators of child maltreatment are almost always closely related to the victim. In 81% of the cases, the victim's parent or parents perpetrate the abuse or neglect. Only 13% of victims are perpetrated by individuals who are not the victim's parents. Clearly, this is a society, community, and family problem. It must be addressed through evidenced based interventions that reach the most intimate level of interaction at the family level.
Infants and toddlers are at the greatest risk for abuse. More than a third of all maltreatment victims were less than 4 years old at the time of the abuse report. The next most common age group to be victimized was early school age (4-7 years). Overall rates of maltreatment are split between the genders with reports involving girls accounting for 51% and boys contributing 48.5% of total reports. The vast majority of maltreatment reports are made for victims who are White. Compared to demographic rates, however, African American homes have the highest incidence of maltreatment in the United States.
IMPACT OF MALTREATMENT UPON EDUCATION
A number of studies have investigated the impact of child maltreatment on educational outcomes. Some of this research provides valuable insight into essential factors of consideration during the development of effective maltreatment prevention and response programs. A study by Shonk and Cicchetti investigated the specific academic and behavior adjustment problems typically faced by child victims of maltreatment. Among these, Shonk and Cicchetti found that maltreated children exhibit a number of at-risk academic characteristics. These included lower grades, poorer classroom work habits, a greater likelihood to be involved in special education services, and higher rates of grade level retention. Interestingly, Shonk and Cicchetti found that academic engagement, one's interest in and connection to learning, partially mediated the negative academic effects of maltreatment. Resiliency and positive social skills also helped to balance out behavioral and emotional problems associated with the experience of abuse and neglect.
Concerned with the relationship of maltreatment with school performance over time, Leiter's research produced a trajectory of academic achievement following the report of an abuse/neglect incident. Leiter found that absenteeism was more negatively impacted by maltreatment than grades over time. This problem cumulated through the progression of a victims' academic career. There are a number of potential causes related to absenteeism but the possibility of its occurrence as a result of maltreatment should be considered in the development of responses to this problem.
In addition to the direct negative effects on education related to maltreatment, a recent annual review suggests a number of psychological ramifications that could also negatively affect learning and success within an academic environment. Maltreated children have significantly more difficulty regulating their emotions. This makes them more likely to practice relational aggression, both in the physical sense and in acts such as school bullying. Maltreated children, even in preschool, exhibited lower self esteem and were more distrustful of adults. They struggled with peer acceptance and had more difficulty adjusting to school.
PREVENTION AND INTERVENTION PROGRAMS
Due to the widespread problem of child maltreatment, much of the financial expenditures come in response to or intervention of maltreatment. Prevention programs are, however, in place in many communities. Prevention programs typically involve public awareness campaign, parenting skills programs, home visitation programs for at-risk families, and respite programs. Family resource centers have been particularly instrumental in the provision of both intervention and prevention programs targeting the reduction of maltreatment.
As supported by the research, this educator supports the implementation of home visitation programs as an effective tool to reduce rates of maltreatment. A randomized trial of home visits by Olds et al. (1998) resulted in a 75% reduction of child abuse and neglect in the child participants' first four years of life. At a 10 year follow-up, children whose homes were visited by outside professionals were significantly less likely to experience abuse or neglect. Olds home visitation model cautions the need for highly trained staff and careful identification of at-risk families to duplicate these positive results.
Once maltreatment has been verified, intervention is necessary to offset the many negative effects of neglect and/or abuse. Intervention varies but is often conducted on an individual and/or family basis. Work to repair a child's ability to establish healthy attachments are often central to treatment. Building a child's self-esteem is also a key component to most intervention strategies. Although not directly involved in the intervention process, educators can support healing through the enhancement of self-esteem in the classroom and school environment.
In an educational environment struggling to pay for basic school supplies, the financial cost of child abuse and neglect is unfathomable. The emotional, social, cognitive, and academic costs of maltreatment to victims are even more incomprehensible. There is absolutely no reason that this problem should not be viewed as a community-wide problem. Rather than paying for the aftereffects into eternity, significant investment should be directed to the prevention and effective treatment of maltreatment. The following K-3 programs are in line with such an approach.
Event 1: Faith-based Awareness program
A faith-based child abuse awareness program could be a multi-modal approach to preventing maltreatment of children (Project Harmony, n.d.). To increase awareness, bible study groups could convene to learn more about the incidence rates, warning signs, and effects of child abuse and neglect. Children's bible groups could learn age appropriate responses to maltreatment, like telling an adult and maintaining appropriate boundaries with one's body. Children could make posters in support of child abuse prevention. These posters could be displayed around the church and/or community to education an even greater number of individuals. Church leaders and other adults could be identified as safe people to talk to should the children ever experience or know of someone who is experiencing abuse.
Prayers for victims of child abuse could also be built into a weekly prayer petition. These prayers might be directed to specific cases of abuse showcased in the news or focused on the more general problem at large. The church congregation as a whole could learn about child abuse in respect to Biblical passages. Church members could collaborate to discuss how one might approach this community problem from a faith-based perspective. All of these activities could be framed under the goal of community improvement, which many churches aim to achieve. In addition, these activities could be planned to coincide with specific times of the year dedicated to child abuse awareness, like April "Child Abuse Prevention Month."
Event 2: Childcare co-op meeting
Respite programs to give parents a break from the rigors of parenting have shown some signs of success in the reduction of maltreatment rates. Traditional childcare setups can be expensive and limited related to the hours and days available. In many cases of child maltreatment, parents become frustrated without warning and it is not feasible to predict such needs for a break several days or even hours prior to their occurrence. In response, the community could gather to sign up for an On-Call Respite agreement.
Co-op childcare has become increasingly popular in offsetting the costs of childcare while also offering much needed respite for overwhelmed parents. In this arrangement, groups of parents agree to offer childcare as needed in exchange for either childcare for their own children or other services. The proposed program might focus on young adult, first time parents with no record of child abuse. In this case, all participants might be willing to exchange childcare given they were available and emotionally able to take on additional children at the time they were needed. An alternative to this arrangement might be a group of volunteers without children who were willing to serve as respite workers.
This program would require more than one meeting as logistical details related to phone lists and hours of expected respite to give and receive would be determined. Basic parent training, like supervision expectations and CPR/First-Aid should also be considered. Limits should be placed upon how many children can be supervised by one person and how long respite can be offered. Some individuals may be opposed to relatively unknown individuals watching their children so this program may not be an appropriate fit for everyone.
Event 3: Skype House Calls
Olds et al. found clear and significant support for home visit programs to reduce the likelihood of child maltreatment. Understandably, many parents may be opposed to the intrusion of outside individuals into their homes. Some may feel that those who conduct the visits may not understand their cultural beliefs and thus, judge them unfairly. When possible, families should be offered the option of collaborating with people of similar cultural background on issues related to parenting. Cultural beliefs largely influence expectations for children and discipline strategies. A potential compromise for these reasonable complaints might be Skype calls to check in with families.
Skype calls could be conducted by members of one's own community, like experienced parents, church members, or trained volunteers. The calls would focus primarily with the parents. They could serve as a brief check in and provide basic support, guidance, and wisdom from a willing listener. Skype visits might provide a slightly more personal connection between the parent, the home, and the visitor. Setting up calls at different times might allow participants to monitor how their moods and patience levels vary across different times of the day. Increasing this type of awareness is critical in the process of reducing acts of impulsive child abuse. Parents would not need to arrange childcare as the children could be present in the home while the calls were conducted.
Clearly, Skype visits would not allow homes to be monitored as closely as in-person visits would but parents may be more willing for technology to enter their homes than another individual. The cost of this program may be another problem for participants. In addition to a webcam and working computer, families would require high speed internet. These costs are something that many families cannot afford. Grant funding may be able to supply this equipment and internet services for a Skype House Call program.
Event 4: Safety Net Program for Children (K-3)
Many child abuse/neglect prevention programs focus on adults at risk of perpetrating these crimes. It is equally important to address the needs of young children in the prevention of child maltreatment. Much of the research has suggested that a large support network for children decreases the likelihood that they will be victims of abuse and/or neglect. The proposed Safety Net program for children in grades K-3 would be both an educational and supportive program intended to establish connections with children to multiple caring adults. A similar program was conducted by the Children's Safety Network. This program focused primarily on the maternal parenting relationship while the current proposed program would involve other family members and friends.
The Safety Net program would begin with in-school education on age-appropriate explanations of abuse and neglect. These explanations would be delivered in a manner that would not make children fearful but rather increase understanding that children need to understand the boundaries of safe treatment so that they can tell someone if they are violated. The Safety Net education component should include videos, speakers, drawing exercises, and puppets. Research has shown that children feel more comfortable talking about abuse with adults with puppets than adults alone. Puppets can also infuse humor and fun into material that can be overwhelming for people of any age.
The second component of the Safety Net program would involve the identification of supportive individuals in the participants' lives. Children would be invited to brainstorm as many sources of supports as possible. Contact information would be derived from their parents and these individuals would be invited with the children and their families to a large picnic event. During this event, general information about the prevention of maltreatment would be provided to the adults. The adults would be commended for the positive impression they had already made on the child participants and encouraged to at least occasionally check in with the children to ensure their ongoing safety.
Children's Safety Network. Weaving a safety net: integrating injury and violence prevention into maternal and child health programs. Newton, MA: Education Development Center, Inc.
Cicchetti, D. & Toth, S.L. Child Maltreatment. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1, 409-438.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children's Bureau. Child Maltreatment.
Leiter, J. School performance trajectories after the advent of reported maltreatment. Children and Youth Services Review, 29(3), 363-382.
Olds, D. L., Henderson, C.R., Chamberlin, R., Tatelbaum, R. The promise of home visitation: Results of two randomized trials. Journal of Community Psychology, 26, 5-21.
Project Harmony (n.d.) Raising child abuse awareness in faith-based communities. Project Harmony. Web.
Scarcella, C. A., R. Bess, E. H. Zielewski, R. Geen The Cost of Protecting Vulnerable Children V: Understanding State Variation in Child Welfare Financing. The Urban Institute, Washington, DC.
Shonk, S.M. & Cicchetti, D. Maltreatment, competency deficits, and risk for academic and behavioral maladjustment. Developmental Psychology, 37(1), 3- 17.