Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Latest Child Abuse Statistics

The fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-4) was released in January of this year. This is only the fourth such report, which were mandated by the US Congress 36 years ago. These reports are based primarily on the number of actual cases in which a child was removed from the home and placed in foster care.

Of course, the actual incidence of childhood abuse is really unknown. This is because a lot of cases go unreported, and because the definition of child abuse keeps changing, but also because there are advocacy groups on both sides of the issue with motives for exaggerating or minimizing the actual incidence as the case may be. I discuss the whole issue of the extent of child abuse in the US in my upcoming book.

According to the Psychiatric News of 4/2/10, the number of children who experienced any kind of abuse dropped from 743,200 in 1993 to 553,000 in 2005-2006. An impressive drop, but still a staggering number of cases in just one year.

Interestingly, however, the number of children removed from families and placed in foster care continues to rise. The difference seems to be due to a doubling of the rate of children who were subjected to something called emotional neglect. The number of kids subjected to that in '05-'06 was 1,173,800 - an amazing number. In 1993, 584,000 such cases were reported. Some of this increase may have been due to more widespread reporting of this phenomenon by teachers and law enforcement, but quite possibly there is more of it taking place.

Emotional neglect is not defined precisely in the report, but the study said it included such things as permitting a child to abuse drugs or alcohol, permitting "maladaptive" behavior such as chronic truancy, and refusing or delaying needed psychological care. The NIS-3 also included in the definition children who witnessed domestic violence. This latter focus may be somewhat new, which is an odd thing to say because of the well-known toxic effects on children of watching their parents beat the hell out of each other.

If the incidence of allowing children free run so that they are undisciplined and act out is really increasing, this would be strong evidence for parenting columnist John Rosemond's assertion that today's parents are often far more ineffective in setting limits with their children than they were even a couple of decades ago.

In yesterday's column, he defined this problem as a failure in parental leadership. Parents nowadays try to be behaviorists with rewards and punishments, but human children are far more resistant to changing their behavior in response to this "behavior modification" strategy than lab rats. He quoted an older friend of his who, when asked how his parents caused him to be obedient to their wishes, replied, "They didn't use any methods at all. They simply expected, and their expectations were clear."

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