Can we really help prevent child abuse? That children have suffered abuse at the hands of loved ones isn’t new, but it wasn’t until fairly recently that it was identified as a specific condition that needed to be addressed. C. Henry Kempe, a pediatrician in Colorado, published an article in 1962 entitled ‘The Battered-Child Syndrome.’ The article was the first to claim that certain injuries and injury patterns often seen in children were the result of intentional abuse by parents and caretakers.
Thankfully we have come a long way in recognizing and working to help prevent child abuse. There are many insights from Dr. Kempe’s article that are still true today. Here are five lessons we can learn to help us work toward preventing child abuse.
- Child abuse is a problem that affects every people group. “Beating of children, however, is not confined to people with a psychopathic personality or of borderline socioeconomic status. It also occurs among people with good education and stable financial and social background.
- Children that were unplanned or seen as inconvenient seem to be abused at a higher rate. “Not infrequently, the beaten infant is a product of unwanted pregnancy, a pregnancy which began before marriage, too soon after marriage, or at some other time felt to be extremely inconvenient.
- Parents who were abused as children are more likely to abuse their children. “It would appear that one of the most important factors to be found in families where parental assault occurs is ‘to do unto others as you have been done by’.”
- Doctors have a difficult time considering abuse as a cause of childhood injury “The humanitarian minded physician finds it most difficult to proceed when he is met with protestations of innocence from the aggressive parent.”
- Asking the right questions can give you a lot of information “A few general questions concerning the parents’ own ideas of how they themselves were brought up may bring forth illuminating answers . . . Clues to the parents’ character and pattern of response may be obtained by asking questions about sources of worry and tension.”
So how can we apply this to help prevent child abuse going forward? We know that what happens to children can affect them for the rest of their lives. Children are incredibly resilient and can grow up to be successful in spite of their upbringing. All the same, kids who have been abused are still more likely than the average person to become abusers when they have kids of their own.
Education and family planning are especially important, because, as Dr. Kempe pointed out, victims of child abuse are often seen as unwanted or inconvenient and, even if the parents are prepared, can cause immense amounts of stress that they can struggle to cope with. Learning about protective factors can help to identify support systems that parents can lean on when they are inevitably stressed out by their children.