Child maltreatment is a complicated social issue

April 2023 · Forward in Hope

In 1974 the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) was enacted as a federal measure to address the overwhelming number of children entering the foster care system because of child maltreatment. Yet we continue to have 3.6 million reports of child abuse and neglect annually across the United States. The argument could be made that CAPTA has had a positive impact in at least raising awareness of child maltreatment because people are making those calls when they are concerned about a child.  However, the number of children entering foster care annually consistently hovers around 430,000.

Child maltreatment is a complicated social issue. In about 80% of cases, the perpetrator of child abuse or neglect is a parent or other person responsible for the primary care of the child. Children under the age of three are most likely to be victims of maltreatment and neglect is the most common form of maltreatment. Impairment of the caregiver’s mental or physical health, substance use, lack of understanding or education on parenting or child development, difficulty bonding or nurturing the child, and a personal history of child abuse tend to be the leading precursors of child maltreatment.

The good news is that these issues do not have to be completely resolved to change the course of child abuse and neglect. Supports, services, and interventions focused on building and maintaining healthy, supportive relationships can be the key, even while addressing these other issues. Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD., founder of the Neurosequential Network, says, “Relationships are the agents of change, and the most powerful therapy is human love.”  And, Oprah Winfrey, well known for her own personal child abuse history and advocacy for child protection says, “The most validating gift you can give is your full presence.”

Think of those you know in your social circle or neighborhood that are parenting. Consider ways you might offer support to relieve their parenting burden even for a brief period. Ask them about their proudest moment as a parent or share something positive you’ve noticed about their child. When parents feel supported and cared for they are more likely to demonstrate care and support for their children.

Pamela Cornwell is Clinical Services Director for Saint Francis Ministries.