According to the Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, child abuse has two definitions on the federal level. The first states that neglect or abuse is defined as recent acts or failures to act on the behalf of a parent or caretaker, which have led to death, serious physical injury or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation (Child Welfare Information Gateway, n.d.). The second is characterized by behavior that also consists of acts or failures to act if a child is at imminent risk of harm. The laws in the state of California reflect the federal law with minimal changes, defining abuse as a physical injury inflicted on a child, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse. Neglect is characterized by negligent treatment which threatens the health and wellbeing of the child.
Primary prevention strategies are those that are widely available to anyone. In cases of child abuse prevention, these tactics often manifest as public service announcements, parent education programs and support groups, increasing accessibility of family services, and public awareness campaigns. Nurses may often be involved in helping develop and promote campaigns or programs that address the physical and medical needs of children. Secondary prevention methods are usually offered to at-risk individuals and include home visiting programs, respite care for families with children, and functional family resource centers. Nurses usually perform tasks that require their expertise, such as respite care and possible treatment at resource centers. Tertiary prevention processes address issues within settings or families where maltreatment has occurred prior. Nurse expertise is essential in both treating patients and assisting them between medical assessments or interventions.
There are several socioeconomic, family, and other indicators that can serve as risk factors for child abuse or neglect. Parents or caretakers who abuse alcohol or drugs have mental health issues, have experienced abuse or neglect, have low education or income, and accept violence and aggression as appropriate behavior are risk factors for child abuse (CDC, 2021). Communities with high rates of violence, crime, poverty, unemployment, and access to drugs are indicators as well. Children within regions in which prevention or intervention programs are inaccessible are also more at risk of abuse.
Emotional signs of abuse and neglect include delayed emotional development, low self-esteem, depression, social withdrawal, and avoidance of certain situations. Behavioral signs of abuse and neglect often manifest as sudden changes in behavior, such as increased aggression or hostility, frequent absences from school or activities, reluctance to go home, withdrawal from friends or activities, and possible self-harm. Physical symptoms can include injuries that are either unexplained or do not match the offered explanation by the child.
Within the state of California, those that are legally required to report cases of child abuse or neglect are referred to as mandated reporters. They are often individuals who work within industries of healthcare, mental health providers, crisis counselors, school staff, social workers, daycare personnel, and law enforcement employees (The Child Abuse Prevention Center, n.d.). Otherwise, other individuals who witness abuse, especially in the case in which a child is in imminent danger, are allowed to report it. The information is submitted to the county’s Child Protective Services or through the Child Abuse Central Index.
Immediate resources that are available to victims of abuse and neglect include clinical treatment for physical and psychological trauma. Family counseling, self-help services, and provision of goods and services within respite or home care. Treatment is also largely defined by the type of abuse that was experienced by the child, but commonly accessible methods of therapy include developmental therapy, intrapersonal therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Collaborative responses often include cross-system cooperation, such as engagement between the community, law enforcement, and medical respondents. This can include the formulation of prevention programs, welfare check-ins, and the provision of resources for adequate child treatment.
The intervention offered by an interdisciplinary service concerning child abuse includes support provided by the department of human resources, law enforcement, forensic interview services, medical services, mental health services, district attorney’s services, and family and victim advocacy services (National Children’s Advocacy Center, n.d.).
Unlike cases of child abuse reporting, elder or spousal abuse reporting does not require a mandated reporter and does not have a law that requires a written report within a certain period. While a majority of the types of abuse and neglect are similar, adult abuse and neglect are often characterized by financial neglect, abandonment, and self-neglect, especially in the case of individuals with disabilities. While adults who have experienced abuse and neglect may refer to similar treatment including medical and therapy intervention, they may not be viable for any other assistance such as being offered living spaces. Several organizations exist that address specific types of abuse such as services for adult survivors of abuse, survivors of sexual abuse or violence, and mental health institutions. Adults or elders who have been victims of abuse or neglect may begin to exhibit chronic depression, generalized anxiety, panic attacks, social isolation, and difficult marriages. In the case of both sexual and physical abuse, a nurse may be able to perform an examination after which they are required to contact legal authorities, either Adult or Child Protective Services. Though it is not legally required, a nurse may connect the victim to adequate counseling in the case of psychological abuse.
CDC. (2021). Risk and Protective Factors. CDC. Web.
The Child Abuse Prevention Center (n.d.). Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Hotlines. CAP Center. Web.
Child Welfare Information Gateway. (n.d.). Definitions of Child Abuse & Neglect. Child Welfare. Web.
National Children’s Advocacy Center. (n.d.). Multidisciplinary Team. National Children’s Advocacy Center. Web.