5 Things Every Social Worker Should Know About Child Abuse

Students often choose to study social work because they love kids and want to help families lead healthy, happy lives. Sadly, experts estimate that approximately five kids die every day from child abuse. Here are five things every social workers with a heart for kids needs to know about child abuse.

Neglect is the Leading Form of Abuse in the U.S.

The term child abuse is likely bring images of screaming and violence to mind, but not all abuse is easy to spot. Child neglect, which is defined as a failure to provide for a child’s basic needs, is the most prevalent form of child abuse. Children who are neglected aren’t provided with food, shelter, clothing, necessary medical care, educational opportunities or adequate supervision. Children who have been neglected for prolonged periods of time tend to become very resourceful and may get in trouble for stealing food, clothing and other items that they aren’t provided with at home.

Abuse Prevention Starts with Education

Most parents are aware that striking, kicking and sexual assault are forms of abuse. However, adults who grew up in emotionally or psychologically abusive homes are often unaware that the habits they’ve learned from their parents are also abusive. This is especially true for adults who were abused as children but never interacted with counselors or social workers. Because they weren’t helped when they were children, some of these adults have very low self-esteem and become abusers themselves. Fortunately, education is the frontline in preventing psychological and emotional abuse. Talking about these types of abuse and teaching positive parenting skills can help build healthier families.

Boys and Girls Are Equally Likely to Be Victims

Adults who perpetrate child abuse tend not to discriminate between boys and girls. Boys and girls are equally likely to suffer from physical, psychological or emotional abuse or neglect. The exception is sexual abuse, which experts believe about 33 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys will experience before they turn 18. Whatever type of abuse you suspect, don’t dismiss your concerns simply because the child seems ‘too tough’ or masculine. Remember that children are vulnerable to abuse by adults even when they act tough and are capable of defending themselves against their peers.

Abuse Has Life-Long Consequences

Children who are abused often suffer from low self-esteem that stretches into adulthood. As many as 90 percent of adults in their 20s who were abused as kids can be classified as having at least one psychological disorder. Depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are especially common among adults who were victims of abuse as kids. Adults who were neglected as children may also suffer from health problems related to childhood malnutrition. Early intervention is key to minimizing such damage and helping kids learn the coping skills needed to move on from past trauma.

Mandated Abuse Reporting Saves Lives

Many social workers who interact with abused children find themselves torn between their commitment to confidentiality and their legal duty to report child abuse. It’s an upsetting dilemma for professionals who want to help the kids they work with but don’t want to lose their trust either. No doubt it’s a tough situation, but it’s important to remember that mandated reporting saves children’s lives. Mandated reporters such as social workers, teachers, police officers and childcare workers are integral to making sure that at-risk kids are removed from abusive situations.

Working with children who’ve suffered from abuse and neglect can be difficult emotionally but it does have big rewards. Remember that many abused kids who’ve gone on to become successful adults credit their social workers and counselors with helping them overcome the trauma of abuse.