Background of the issue
Many of you might wonder why many children attend school and do not say a word in your class. Today I am here to talk to you about the reasons why this may occur because many teachers are not aware of these problems that are affecting many of our children today. One of the social issues that I have chosen is Child abuse-neglected children. I chose child abuse because it is a silent killer that tends to have a major effect on our children at the primary and secondary school level. Many of us might not know the problems that our children are faced with at home with parents, step parents or guardians. They might appear really calm or they might just be the one child in our class that is always on a bad behavior level. We are the only ones that can help these children but first we need to know how to recognized and point out if these children are in the category of child abuse or neglect.
I will first begin by informing what child abuse is and then I will continue by explaining other things that will help teachers to assist these type of children in the classroom. Child abuse in Belize continues to be a serious and ever-increasing problem. Although the media report extreme and tragic examples of abuse, many children are living in less newsworthy, but alarming circumstances. The statistics are shocking. An incident of child abuse is reported—on average—every 10 seconds. The most recent government national study reported that more than 2.9 million reports of possible maltreatment involving children were made to child protective services in 2003.
The actual incidence of abuse and neglect, however, is estimated to be three times greater than the number reported to authorities. Every day more than 4 children die as a result of child abuse in the home. Child abuse is more than bruises and broken bones. There are several types of child abuse that is happening to our children either at home or school, but the core element that ties them together is the emotional effect on the child and the deep, long lasting scars that they leave on a child. Some children might be so detrimental that they seem to block out their peers and other social groups. Children need predictability, structure, clear boundaries, and the knowledge that their parents are looking out for their safety. They need to be love so that they can succeed in the outside world.
There are many problems that children can face inside and outside of the classroom when they are being abuse or neglected. One of the most heart breaking things in life is when a child is hurt, whether by accident or by abuse. A lot of the time, there are visible signs of abuse such as bruises, cuts, and broken bones, but sometimes it isn’t easy to see signs. Some of the invisible signs can seem to be withdrawn, angry, quiet, and/or violent are just a few. These are warning signs for parents, teachers, and caregivers that something is wrong. If abuse is suspected then it should be reported to the proper authorities. But not all children that seem to be withdrawn and shy are abused; they could simply lack the social cognition to interact in society. When this is the case working with the child can help them to feel more comfortable in society. Children that need help with social cognition will be the ones that are so quiet that you forget they are there.
They are the ones that do not seem to participate in activities in and out of school, and do not seem to have any friends. There are surveys to determine if a child fits in this description, but it could damage the child even further if he feels that he is singled out. That is the problem in the first place; he does not feel like he fits in. Simple observation can determine whether the child is feeling neglected. Neglected children are very passive and unable to be spontaneous, have feeding problems and grow slowly, find it hard to develop close relationships, be over-friendly with strangers, get on badly with other children of the same age, be unable to play imaginatively, think badly of themselves, and be easily distracted and do badly at school. It can be hard to detect long-standing abuse by an adult the child is close to. It is often very difficult for the child to tell anyone about it, as the abuser may have threatened to hurt them if they tell anybody.
A child may not say anything because they think it is their fault that no one will believe them or that they will be teased or punished. The child may even love the abusing adult, they want the abuse to stop, but they don’t want the adult to go to prison or for the family to break up. Neglect can have a strong impact on, and lead to problems in, a child’s emotional, psychosocial, and behavioral development. As with other effects already mentioned, these may be evident immediately after the maltreatment or not manifest themselves until many months or years later. All types of neglect and emotional neglect in particular, can have serious psychosocial and emotional consequences for children. Some of the short-term emotional impacts of neglect, such as fear, isolation, and an inability to trust, can lead to lifelong emotional and psychological problems, such as low self-esteem. A major component of emotional and psychosocial development is attachment.
This behavior may in turn cause teachers or peers not to offer help or support, thus reinforcing the negative expectations of the neglected child. One mitigating factor, however, may be having an emotionally supportive adult, either within or outside of the family, such as a grandparent or a teacher, available during childhood. Another mitigating factor may be having a loving, accepting spouse or close friend later in life. Neglected children who are unable to form secure attachments with their primary caregivers may: Become more mistrustful of others and may be less willing to learn from adults, have difficulty understanding the emotions of others, regulating their own emotions, or forming and maintaining relationships with others, Have a limited ability to feel remorse or empathy, which may mean that they could hurt others without feeling their actions were wrong, Demonstrate a lack of confidence or social skills that could hinder them from being successful in school, work, and relationships, demonstrate impaired social cognition, which is one’s awareness of oneself in relation to others and an awareness of other’s emotions.
Impaired social cognition can lead a person to view many social interactions as stressful. Different other problems that teachers can encounter in the classroom that may be a sign of neglected abuse are difficulty paying attention, not listening when spoken to, difficulty organizing tasks and activities, being easily distracted, being forgetful, excessive talking, difficulty awaiting their turn, bullying or threatening others, being physically cruel to people or animals, stealing and destroying others property.
Review of the issue
Child neglect is the most common type of child maltreatment. Unfortunately, neglect frequently goes unreported and, historically, has not been acknowledged or publicized as greatly as child abuse. Even professionals often have given less attention to child neglect than to abuse. In some respects, it is understandable why violence against children has commanded more attention than neglect. Abuse often leaves visible bruises and scars, whereas the signs of neglect tend to be less visible. However, the effects of neglect can be just as detrimental. In fact, some studies have shown that neglect may be more detrimental to children’s early brain development than physical or sexual abuse. How neglect is defined shapes the response to it. Since the goal of defining neglect is to protect children and to improve their well-being not to blame the parents or caregivers—definitions help determine if an incident or a pattern of behavior qualifies as neglect, its seriousness or duration, and, most importantly, whether or not the child is safe. Although specific causes are not known, a significant body of research has identified several risk and protective factors.
Multiple risk factors are more likely to increase the probability of abuse. For example, lack of preparation or knowledge of the demands of parenting can lead to abusive or neglectful parenting. Parents may lack understanding of their children’s developmental stages and hold unreasonable expectations for their abilities and behavior; they may be unaware of effective discipline or alternatives to corporal punishment and may also lack knowledge of the health, hygiene and nutritional needs of their children. Individuals who have difficulty in single parenting, in controlling anger in relationships, who have mental health or substance abuse problems, financial stress or housing problems can appear uninterested in the care of their children and are also at risk for abusive behavior. Child abuse and neglect represent a problem of alarming proportions, with tremendous psychological and economic costs to both the individuals involved and to society.
Early identification and treatment is important to avoid or minimize the long term consequences of abuse. Through treatment the abused child is helped to regain a sense of self-esteem and trust, and the family learns new ways of support and communication. It is critical to support ongoing and new research to point the way to effective strategies of prevention and intervention to change the course of the lives of victimized children. Abused children cannot predict how their parents will act. Their world is an unpredictable, frightening place with no rules. Whether the abuse is a slap, a harsh comment, stony silence, or not knowing if there will be dinner on the table tonight, the end result is a child that feel unsafe, uncared for, and alone. However, by learning common types of abuse and what you can do, you can make a huge difference in a child’s life. The earlier abused children get help, the greater chance they have to heal from their abuse and not perpetuate the cycle.
One of the main types of abuse that see happening in our schools today is child neglect. Child neglect is a very common type of child abuse, it is a pattern of failing to provide for a child’s basic needs, whether it be adequate food, clothing, hygiene, or supervision. Child neglect is not always easy to spot. Sometimes, a parent might become physically or mentally unable to care for a child, such as with a serious injury, untreated depression, or anxiety. Other times, alcohol or drug abuse may seriously impair judgment and the ability to keep a child safe. Older children might not show outward signs of neglect, becoming used to presenting a competent face to the outside world, and even taking on the role of the parent. But at the end of the day, neglected children are not getting their physical and emotional needs met.
While child abuse and neglect occurs in all types of families—even in those that look happy from the outside—children are at a much greater risk in certain situations. All parents upset their children sometimes. Saying `no’ and managing difficult behavior is an essential part of parenting. Tired or stressed parents can lose control and can do or say something they regret, and may even hurt the child. If this happens often enough, it can seriously harm the child. Children are usually abused by someone in their immediate family circle. This can include parents, brothers or sisters, babysitters or other familiar adults. It is quite unusual for strangers to be involved.
Analysis of the issue
Child abuse and neglect is a problem that has existed for many years. Laws make it necessary for the teachers and other adults to be aware of the definitions that describe abuse and neglect. In addition, it is necessary to review the characteristics of the child and caregiver to ascertain who may be at risk. Physical signs, such as specific types of fractures, burns, scalds, and bruises, should act as a key to suspected abuse. In 2005, the National Organization for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NOPCAN) in Belize carried out a study which was aimed at raising awareness among the general public about the use of corporal punishment in schools and the home and the damage this does to children and to generate interest in the use of alternative measures. Information on the views and experiences of children aged 7-15 years was gathered through focus groups (87 children) and questionnaires (292 children).
In focus groups, 45% of children aged 7-10 years felt that adults should immediately address wrong behavior, and 45% of all involved felt that it was wrong and ineffective for adults to use corporal punishment as a means of controlling children. Responses to the questionnaires revealed that 91% 7-10 year olds had been lashed at home/school, and 87.7% were still being punished in this way. The most commonly used implement for beating was a belt (59.9%), followed by a slipper (42.2%), a rope (16.4%), a ruler (11.9%) and a stick (11.3%). Some of the children were scarred from the beatings. Of children aged 11-15 years, 97% said that corporal punishment had been or was still being inflicted at home and school, with punishments including having to kneel on bottle stoppers and being hit on the head.
More than two thirds (69%) considered corporal punishment to be cruel and inhumane, and a similar number said that when the punishment was administered they felt hurt, shameful, fearful, upset, vexed, bad, angry and resentful. Students explained that they were told by their parents and teachers that they were being punished out of love and this led many to believe that it was right to administer corporal punishment to them. However, they stated that they cannot learn when there is the threat of the whip, and that they need to feel loved not threatened with violence. Children who have experienced neglect have been found to demonstrate higher frequencies of insecure, anxious, and avoidant attachments with their primary caregivers than non-maltreated children. In fact, studies have demonstrated that 70 to 100 percent of maltreated infants form insecure attachments with their caregivers.
Often, emotionally neglected children have learned from their relationships with their primary caregivers that they will not be able to have their needs met by others. This may cause a child not to try to solicit warmth or help from others. I believe that child abuse and neglect damages and break apart a child’s life. It is our role as teachers to help these children overcome these dying situations. We must realize that when a child appears to be, not of a normal child and acts in a rather calm or aggressive mode than he or she usually appears, that something might be wrong. There are many children each year in our classroom that seems to have some kind of problems in their household.
Statistics have shown that 4 out of every 10 children in a class have some kind of abusive relationship especially neglect. The maltreatment of children does not occur within a vacuum. In nearly every case, it is important to assess the functioning, strengths, and needs of a child within several contexts. Usually the dominant context of the abused child is the child’s immediate family. However, there are also many other contexts or cultures that may have a greater or lesser influence on the abused child depending on the child’s age (social networks, extended family, etc.).
In many cases of child maltreatment, therapists have a negative perception of the family (i.e., parents) because of the harm they have caused the child. The therapist may be angry or think less of the child’s parents if they are the source of the child’s maltreatment. However, the therapist should negate neither the importance of the family (from the perspective of the child) nor each family member’s ability to contribute important information concerning the child’s level of functioning. Whether or not they are involved in the abuse, parents are usually one of the most informed sources of information about the child’s daily functioning and presenting problems.
Similarly, an assessment of the child’s functioning within settings such as school, social gatherings, daily after school activities and day care provide information about the maltreated child from several sources and in several environments. One benefit of developing a multi environment, multisource assessment of the child is that patterns of behavior, identified across contexts, increase the validity of the presence of a particular behavior or characteristic. For example, reports from a parent that a child is frequently belligerent and noncompliant might be supported by reports from his/her teacher that indicate that the child is frequently involved in physical fights with peers, has temper outbursts, and refuses to complete schoolwork. A valid conclusion that could be drawn from these reports is that this child possesses a relatively stable pattern of oppositional or defiant behavior.
Although child neglect is the most common type of maltreatment, its causes, effects, prevention, and treatment often are not as prominently discussed and explored as are those for physical or sexual abuse. Neglect, like other types of maltreatment, has many contributing factors at the individual, familial, and community levels. The complexities of neglect present difficulties not only for an overburdened child welfare system, but also for community- and faith-based programs, researchers, legislators, and other service providers. It is key, therefore, that these groups work collaboratively to develop promising and effective practices for preventing neglect and for mitigating its effects on children and society. Part of this process is providing individuals, families, and communities with the knowledge, resources, and services to deal with the challenges associated with neglect. Neglect must be viewed not only as an individual or a family problem, but also as a community issue requiring a community response.
Teachers that observe signs of neglect in the classroom must inform the child’s parent of what is going with their child. Parents will have valuable information that will help the child. A child may feel uncomfortable in a social situation, but be a completely different child at home. This would indicate that the problem is at school. Information gathered by the parents and teachers will assist in forming a plan to help the child. This should be done in collaboration between parent and teacher. If a child does not get the necessary help that need in order to be successful in life and education they will suffer the many years that they have to pass through this burden.
A child that feels neglected needs to feel that they are important. Allowing them to read to a younger group of children may help them to feel that they are needed. Putting them in charge of a group project can help them to build confidence. Pairing them up with a more socially comfortable child can help to learn about proper social behavior. Many children will learn more effectively from their peers. After working with the child using the plan agreed by the parents and teacher, a follow up meeting should be scheduled. If what is being used to help the child is not working, then something else should be agreed upon. The important thing to remember is parents and teachers should work together. As a teacher, it can be overwhelming and difficult to adapt your classroom for abused and neglected children.
It is possible to create a positive environment for all students. It is important to know how to appropriately interact with abused and neglected children in order to make your classroom a safe and comfortable environment for everyone. In order to help a neglected student, teachers need to gather as much information on the student as possible however is careful not to define the student by their past history and behaviors because it is easy to treat abused and neglected children differently. We often pay them more attention, feeling sorry for them and minimizing their behaviors due the abuse and neglect. Although it is good to be sensitive to their individual needs, it is important to treat them like any other student in your class. Responsive adults, such as parents, teachers, and other caregivers make all the difference in the lives of maltreated children. They need to be held, rocked, and cuddled. Be physical, caring, and loving to children with attachment problems. Be aware that for many of these children, touch in the past has been associated with pain and torture.
In these cases, make sure you carefully monitor how they respond — be “attuned” to their responses to your nurturing and act accordingly. In many ways, you are providing replacement experiences that should have taken place during their infancy — but you are doing this when their brains are harder to modify and change. Therefore, they will need even more bonding experiences to help them to develop attachments. . Abused and neglected children will often be emotionally and socially delayed. And whenever they are frustrated or fearful, they will regress. This means that, at any given moment, a ten-year old child may emotionally be a two-year old. Despite our wishes that they would “act their age” and our insistence to do so, they are not capable of that. These are the times that we must interact with them at their emotional level. If they are tearful, frustrated, or overwhelmed (emotionally age two), treat them as if they were that age.
Use soothing non-verbal interactions. Hold them. Rock them. Sing quietly. This is not the time to use complex verbal arguments about the consequences of inappropriate behavior. Many abused and neglected children do not know how to interact with other people. One of the best ways to teach them is to model this in your own behaviors, and then narrate for the child what you are doing and why. Become a play-by-play announcer: “I am going to the sink to wash my hands before dinner because…” or “I take the soap and put it on my hands like this….” Children see, hear, and imitate. . One of the most helpful things to do is just stop, sit, listen, and play with these children.
When you are quiet and interactive with them, you will often find that they will begin to show you and tell you about what is really inside them. Yet as simple as this sound, one of the most difficult things for adults to do is to stop, quit worrying about the time or your next task, and really relax into the moment with a child. Practice this. You will be amazed at the results. These children will sense that you are there just for them, and they will feel how you care for them.
It is during these moments that you can best reach and teach these children. This is a great time to begin teaching children about their different “feelings.” Regardless of the activity, the following principles are important to include: (1) All feelings are okay to feel — sad, glad, or mad (more emotions for older children); (2) Teach the child healthy ways to act when sad, glad, or mad; (3) Begin to explore how other people may feel and how they show their feelings — “How do you think Bobby feels when you push him?” (4) When you sense that the child is clearly happy, sad, or mad, ask them how they are feeling. Help them begin to put words and labels to these feelings.
• Carr, A. (ed) (2000) ‘What Works with Children and Adolescents?’ – A Critical Review of Psychological Interventions with Children, Adolescents and their Families. London: Brunner-Routledge. • Jones, D. & Ramchandani, P. (1999) ‘Child Sexual Abuse – Informing Practice from
Research’. Oxford: Radcliffe Medical Press. • Monck, E. & New, M. (1996) ‘Sexually Abused Children and Adolescents who are Treated in Voluntary Community Services’. London: HMSO. Out of print. • NOPCAN-BELIZE CITY BRANCH