Running Head: CHILD NEGLECT AND SELF-ESTEEM The Impact on child neglect and self-esteem Jill Rasmussen, MSW, LCSW SOWK 317 Social Work Methods: Generalist Practice with Children and Families When a person thinks about child neglect, the first thing that may come to mind is a child not being taken care of physically. In fact that is what child neglect is about. “Children are neglected when they are deprived of minimally adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, medical care, and nurturing” (Dubowitz, 1999, p. 1). We can safely say that a child is neglected when these basic needs are not met. Children are being ignored every day; they are being deprived of clothes, food, love, affection, and even of an education. The lack of parental love and the effects of child neglect alters the way a person views themselves. The way a parent treats their child determines a child’s future. The lack of love and affection on behalf of the parent or guardian leads to poor self-esteem of the child.
According to Craig & Baucum, “the nature of child neglect is horrifying, whether it takes blatant physical forms such as violent punishment or sexual abuse or subtler psychological forms such as ridicule and direct attacks on the child’s self- concept” (Craig & Baucum, 2002, p. 217). “Child neglect represents over 50% of child protective services reports” (Horton & Cruise, 2001, p. 143). The way a parent treats their child has a lot to do with their view of themselves, meaning that the children self-esteem is affected.
When a child is first born and is not able to verbally communicate, they feel attached to a person through the sense of touch. They need love and affection from their parents or guardians, that’s how it all starts. Once they receive that love, they feed off of it and they then know how special and important they are in their parent’s life. Even if it is not verbally, they still need to feel that special touch and be held, that is how we show them love. If the parent fails to do these things, the child suffers, and if those conditions do not improve, the effects are more severe the older the child becomes.
The child is not born knowing who they are, they learn about themselves through their parents, and other family members. If the parent fails to tell the child how good he or she is, or if he/she fails to show the child love affection, then their self-esteem will not be as high as it could be. In doing research, I was first curious as to what makes a parent neglect their children. Is it because of the lack of love they feel for the child? Maybe the child reminds them of the parent that walked out on them? I now realize that a lot of child neglect cases have to do with poverty.
People that have a low socioeconomic status end up neglecting their children, not because they want to, but because they cannot afford to buy the necessities to take care of their children. They are poor people who try to survive off of a small, monthly income. Unemployment may be another cause of child neglect, since many of the parents that do the neglecting are often unemployed. Some may not have had the proper education that would have helped them qualify for a better job to provide better care for them and for their children. Another possibility could be that they are suffering from social isolation.
One more problem that we often see is that they may have more than one child and may feel overwhelmed by all the responsibilities that comes along with having children. Living conditions have improved in the last couple of years. By this I mean that the government has provided better care for citizens. Better housing arrangements have been provided, better health care, the nutrition has also improved which should be helpful to parents. A person would think that by the improvement of these conditions, parents would be a bit better off than before.
The truth is that these parents are still in the same predicament. Just because these conditions have changed, does not automatically mean that the person will also change; it does not mean that parents will pay more attention to their children’s need and make sure their needs have been met. No improvement has been shown on the parent’s part. The number of people living in poverty has not changed, the numbers have not decrease; unlike the improved living conditions, poverty has stayed at the same level. Many of these child neglect cases involve parents with a substance abuse roblem. Because of the effect alcohol has on the body and on the human brain, parents, after they have been drinking, unconsciously neglect their children. Alcohol makes a person do things that they normally would not do. They are not fully aware of their surroundings or their actions when they are under the influence. There have been plenty of times when the parent says something while under the influence, that they come to regret later on. These substance abusers end up neglecting their children without even realizing it, not knowing the effect it will have on their child.
Many factors contribute to child neglect, “it may be that although economic factors often contribute to neglect, they are neither necessary nor sufficient to cause neglect. A lot of people tend to believe that poverty alone is the cause of child neglect” (Dubowitz, 1999, p. 93). The truth is that many people all over the world live in poverty but not all of these children are being neglected, there are still poor parents out there that take care of their children no matter what. This leads us to the conclusion that poverty has something to do with a parent neglecting their child, but it is not the primary reason for child neglect.
Not everyone that has a low-income neglects their children; it has a lot do with the individual and how they handle situations like poverty. Another cause of child neglect could be being a single parent with multiple jobs, or maybe even being unemployed. Some may not have the job they desire. They may not be happy with their low paying job either. Some may have had an education but where unable to find a job in the particular field they hoped so, so now they are forced to settle for a less paying job.
Poverty plays a big part in all of this. It may also be that the parent has multiple jobs and is never home to really take care of the child and his/her needs. Once a parent has a commitment with different employers, he/she may not be as available to the child, as when he/she was unemployed. We also have to take into consideration that the parent may not have had the proper education. They feel that holding two different positions is what they need to do in order for them to live a normal life.
By having two jobs, they risk having a good relationship with their children, the relationship that they may have had before employment, but they see it as providing for the family and helping the family get out of poverty. Parenting is not something that comes naturally; you learn how to become a good parent as you go along. Parents make several mistakes as they go along but they are interested in the well being of their children. Many neglected cases take place because the parent, at some point, lost control of the child. This is when we, as social workers, intervene.
We are here to educate them and give them other alternatives when it comes to disciplining children and their treatment as well. Some parents are not aware of the changes children experience and do not know how to discipline them or how to better understand them. In reading about the relationships that these parents form, I was shocked to find out that if a parent fails to establish a good, healthy relationship with co-workers, neighbors, extended family members, spouses and such, they are most likely going to fail in establishing a good and solid relationship with their children.
If they cannot communicate with their co-workers, neighbors, etc on an adult level, they are not really going to go home and communicate with their children who may not have acquired the knowledge that an adult has. Because they failed to establish a good relationship with other adults, their other relationships will be affected as well. “Research indicates that poor interpersonal relationships account for many of the most enduring and severe consequences of child neglect (Dubowitz, 1999, p. 51).
Yes, poverty, unemployment and other factors may be the cause of child neglect but a failure to establish a good relationship with your children may be necessary to reducing neglect. The theory that works well with this problem is the family systems theory, which was developed by Salvadore Miruchin and Virginia Satir in 1974. According to Neukrug, Minuchin is one of the originators of this theory. He states: “families may face unexpected problems that are situationally specific and will encounter predictable struggles as the family ages and goes through the life stages” (Neukrug, 1999, p. 60). This theory describes a healthy family as one that makes adequate changes as they see fit and as the need arises. A dysfunctional family is one that “has serious problems” (Neukrug, 1999, p. 161). Even when a problem arises in a healthy family, they try their best to get to the root of the problem and find a solution to it. A dysfunctional family has problems but they may not necessarily agree that they do, so the solution may not be found until they accept they have a problem.
It may take them a while longer to see the problem, as opposed to a member of a healthy family. Satir, who was an educator, a family therapist and an author said: “the actions of one family member resonate throughout the family system” (Neukrug, 1999, p. 160). She focused on the improvement of relationships and on the communication within the family unit. She was a very kind person who was also known for her insight about self-esteem and human communication. She wanted everyone to have a special connection to another human being.
She educated these people on communication and about families. This theory explains that every family has to go through different life changing stages but is it how they deal with the changes that sets apart a healthy family from a dysfunctional family. A healthy family communicates on a regular basis and when problems arise, they handle every problem accordingly “Families are systems, and each unique family system affects other systems around it…when one member of the family feels pain, the [entire] family is affected (Neukrug, 1999, p. 159).
When one person phases problem and difficulties in life, they may turn to other members who take on the problem of their loved one. This ends up affecting the whole family system as a whole. Because of the relationship that family members form with each other, when one suffers, others take on that same pain. When a married couple is no longer happy, the child senses it. They can sense when their parents are not happy. When a separation takes place, the child may react in a way that they normally would not. Their school performance may be poor. They may become rebels and have a nonchalant attitude.
In some cases they become scapegoats, which is when the couple, who is no longer happy with one another, takes out their anger and frustrations on the child who has nothing to do with their unhappiness. (Neukrug, 1999, p. 161). This is how a child falls under the neglected category. The actions of one person in the family can affect the next and in this case with the divorce, it can affect the child. The parent who has custody of the child may still be dealing with the separation issue and may fail to meet the child’s needs. This is how neglect can also come about. Many children are being abused.
Several of these children are silently suffering while other abuse cases are pretty obvious. As social workers, what can we do to make sure the child gets nutrition, care, education, etc? When working with a family that is neglecting their children, we should “consider the entire family as the client unless the child’s safety will be at risk if the family remains intact” (Collins, Jordan & Coleman 1999, p. 234). The intervention that experts suggest is the “home based” intervention, which allows the social worker to “reach out to the families” instead of waiting for the family to reach out to them.
When the child is at major risk, we, as mandated reporters, should report it. The next step is deciding whether the child should live with another family member or be placed under foster care. An advantage of having the entire family present during sessions, whether it is at their home, or in our office, is that they can all be helped simultaneously. We should aim at “strengthening parenting skills and help the family to function in healthier ways; providing this kind of assistance may enable parent and child to remain together” (Collins, Jordan & Coleman, 1999, p. 34). Collins, Jordan and Coleman point out that a small number of parents doing the neglecting and abusing may have been neglected or abused as a child. A test was given by Polansky, a researcher, a few years back and it brought to light that 15% of neglectful mothers that were part of the study, had a history of child neglect while they were growing up. Moreover, 57% said that they did not feel wanted during their childhood. About 41% had been separated from their parent(s) for a long period of time (Dubowitz, 1999, p. 104).
The parent may not feel comfortable with the social worker if they have not established a relationship of trust and confidence. The parent may not feel comfortable enough to share their feelings. As professionals, we should always let the parent know what is taking place “keeping in mind that parents will probably feel defensive and threatened” (Collins, Jordan & Coleman, 1999, p. 234). Establishing a good relationship can help the social worker find out more information once the social worker/parent bond has been established.
At this point in the assessment, the parent may be more open to share concerns regarding abuse and neglect. They will express their concerns and problems openly. Social workers are to be genuinely concerned when questioning with the focus of getting to the root of the problem. It is imperative that the parent senses the genuineness of our goal to help them and not to take their children` away. Most parents just want to know that the problem is fixable and that everything will eventually fall into place and be all right. They have to feel that the best is wanted for their child.
We must communicate to the parent that we are mandated reporters and regardless of the parent /social worker relationship, the child comes first and we will not keep the abuse a secret. We know that children who “are physically and emotionally neglected may suffer significant short-term and longer-term cognitive, emotional, and social problems”, Dubowitz goes on to say that these effects may “begin during infancy and continue to handicap academic functioning in later years” (Dubowitz, 1999, p. 104). Child neglect has a long lasting effect on an individual; it is in fact the most damaging of all other abuses.
You can see the signs of physical abuse and see the repercussions of sexual abuse but neglected children may suffer silently at times, you may see the signs when a child’s hygiene is not kept up, but they may neglected in other areas as well. Some suffer silently because they may not feel that they can go to anyone with the problem. They may feel that no one really loves them since they do not receive the love from their own parents. It may be hard to see who is being neglected, but if we play close attention, we will then see that these children are crying out for our help. As previously stated, child neglect is associated with poverty.
The results from the Third National Incidence Study tells us that children in families with an income under $15,000 per year are twenty-two times more likely to be victims of neglect than children in families with an income over $30,000. Fewer than 3% of children are neglected; almost 1 million are victims of neglect. Twenty percent of the United States children, who are approximately 14 million children, live in families with income below the federal poverty level. Because these families are so poor, they are unable to provide food and shelter, clothing and even an education to these children, unless they are being helped by public support.
Studies show that the way a kid performs in school has to do with his family income. There are many reasons why a child does poorly in school. It could be because of the lack of attention given in the home, maybe even a low birth weight, being an unwanted child, absence of a caring adult in their lives to help them, which results in children entering school with poor language skills since they have not been communicating before beginning school (Dubowitz, 1999, p. 93). Child neglect also has serious effects physically on an individual. Those who don’t receive the proper nutrition may experience the failure to thrive syndrome.
The failure to thrive syndrome results from a medical problem that impairs growth. It causes infants to develop slowly because of the lack of nutrition. They are also unable to properly digest their foods. This occurs when the child has not received the proper attention and affection from the adult in charge of them. Their height and weight is not of a normal child, “they weigh in the lower 3% of the normal weight range for their age group and show no evidence of disease or abnormality that would explain their failure to grow (Craig & Baucum, 2002, p. 217). This deceased is also caused by neglect.
Research shows that some of the parents during the abusing may in fact have been neglected as infants. They may now be depressed or physically ill or they may have a mental disorder or they may even be a substance abuser. Many of these parents were abused growing up. “Not all people who were abused as children grow up to abuse their children, but too often the cycle is repeated (Craig & Baucum, 2002, p. 217). According to Dubowitz (1999), in a school environment, children who have been neglected do not excel like other children who have not been neglected at all, do.
In 1993, Eckenrode did a study with 420 children from kindergarten through the 12th grade and the results show that those who have been neglected or abused in some way, do not perform as well as the non-maltreated children. They also had lower test grades, performed poorly in math and had more absences than any other group of children. Children who had been both physically abused and neglected scored lower than the non-maltreated group in reading and math. Those with physical abuse and neglect and those who were only neglected had lower grades in English than other kids. The infants in pre-school had a tedious time expressing hemselves. Sixty percent of neglected children had repeated one or more grades, as opposed to 24% of those non-maltreated children. They also show a lower IQ than the rest of the children at 24 and 36 months. Children who have been neglected do not function as well as those who haven’t been neglected or abused. They are less confident as well as less assertive. They are not as creative as the other children. This is where self esteem comes in, children who have been neglected are said to have poorer self-esteem and poorer emotional health than those whose abuse and maltreatment continued (Dubowitz, 1999,).
They also have a greater need of closeness than those that were no longer maltreated. We also see that neglected children are more withdrawn from others, while abused children are more aggressive. They also show less affection since they are not use to receiving such affection in their homes. Unlike most kids, these neglected children do not initiate any type of play with their parents. Neglected children do not have any consistency in their lives. They do not know what to expect on a daily basis. One day they may have food; the next day the parent may be too broke to buy any food for them.
They are not use to something being consistent in their lives so whenever they get an opportunity to eat or do anything else, they do it in excess since they do not know when the next time they will eat will come. “These children develop an inability to delay gratification, which in turn results in impulsive behavior, stealing, promiscuity, [etc]” (Crosson-Tower, 1999, p. 74). In talking about crime and delinquency “one study found that neglected children were only slightly less likely (12. 5%) than abused children (15. %) to be arrested (not necessarily convicted) as juveniles or as adults for violent crimes. ” They do not feel like their parents care, so they may look for trouble, or do things to get attention one way or another, it does not matter if the attention is negative. “Childhood neglect or abuse increased the overall risk for violent offending as an adult, but not as a juvenile, for African Americans and for males. ” With the females, they were most likely to be arrested as juveniles but not as adults. Once maltreated, these children become violent at a young age.
Poverty also leads to violence. “Poverty causes frustration, which results in aggression” (Dubowitz, 1999, p. 103). Child neglect at an early age, may determine how the child will be as an adult. They may have trouble academically, they may even develop physical problems if they are neglected, and some may commit crimes in search of attention. What the parent thinks of the child is very important to the child and helps shape the children’s self-concept of themselves. It is up to the parent to do the necessary things and make sure all of the child’s needs are being met.
A child should always feel important and that they belong to their families, children see what they are worth because of how their parents view them. If the child feels like they matter to their parents, their self-esteem will increase and they will act like they matter to others. This is how the child develops values and ethics, through their parents and their perceptions of them. When they are a bit older, in their teens, they seek those with similar background to them and begin the cycle all over again when they have children of their own.
Emotionally, children may suffer from depression, anxiety, fear, hopelessness, anger, etc. All these symptoms are a result of child neglect. Behaviorally, children may internalize their abuse, by withdrawing themselves from the rest of the world, and by suppressing their anxiety with the intension of it never resurfacing. What they fail to realize is that the longer they keep the anger in, the longer it will take for the social worker to help make a change in their lives. Other children may externalize their problems by being very aggressive, by bullying other children, etc.
They do this, not because it is their nature, but because they may be searching for attention or they may want to let out their frustrations on others. Cognitively they experience learn helplessness. They are use to being helpless so the helplessness continues in their lives. Child neglect is a serious problem and the more we are informed, the more we can help prevent it, as social workers and as caring citizens. By educating ourselves, we are able to help others avoid this problem as well as help find a solution to it. References Craig, G. J. Baucum, D. (2002). Human Development, 9th Ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Crosson-Tower, C. (1999). Understanding child abuse and neglect. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Dubowitz, H. (Ed). (1999). Neglected children: Research, practice and policy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Horton, C. B. & Cruise, K. (2001). Child abuse and neglect: The school’s response. New York: The Guildford Press. Jacob, S. (2003). Abuse and neglect: The educator’s guide to the identification and prevention of child maltreatment. Psychology in the schools. 0, 441-443, from PsycINFO database. Kalichman, S. (1999). Mandated reporting of suspected child abuse: ethics, law and policy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Little, R. (2003). Who’s minding the kids? The Village Voice. 48, 50-52. Neukrug, E. (1999). Theory, practice and trend in human services: an introduction to an emerging profession. Canada: Brooks/Cole. Smith, S. (1998). Risk and our pedagogical relation to children on the playground and beyond. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.