Assessing Child Abuse Risk Factors

Child abuse is one of the most heinous crimes because it is perpetrated on someone who cannot fight back. A child doesn’t have the maturity to know what to do about it or how to deal with it, which makes them particularly vulnerable. Abusers are usually someone know to the child, and often are the very people the child counts on to keep him/her safe!

Child abusers can come in all genders, all ethnicities and all economic statuses. They often do not look like our stereotype of a child abuser’, and are not those loner weirdos who live in someone else’s neighborhood. A child abuser can live in your city, your neighborhood and even your home! They can be church goers, kindly old grandpas, and even kindly old grandmas. We, as parents, have to learn to walk the fine line between an over trusting, naive parent and a paranoid, fearful parent.

The categories for child abuse include: neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and other. There are certain risk factors you can look for that may precipitate child abuse. Not everyone who has these risk factors will abuse, but it gives us someplace to start. The biggest risk factor is poverty. It is not known if this finding is because the poor are more likely to be watched’ by schools and services, or if it is in fact a true correlation. Considering the other factors that are likely to come along with poverty, it makes sense that it would be a large risk factor. More than one type of abuse exists, however, and poverty may only be a higher risk for certain types that are more focused on in our society. Fathers or males are more likely to abuse than mothers or other females.

Other risk factors can be divided into three types according to an article by Lesa Bethea, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of family medicine in the Department of Family and Preventative Medicine at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. (1) The types are “Community/societal”, “Parent-related” and “Child-related”. Community/Societal risk factors include: a high rate of crime, a low rate of available social services, higher poverty rate and a “high unemployment rate”. These are societal factors that contribute to the likelihood that a child well be abused.

“Parent-related” factors include: persons who were abused as children themselves, teen or single parents, emotional immaturity, low coping skills, low self-esteem, substance abusers, previous abusers, those with little social support, couples involved in domestic violence, lack of parenting skills or the stress of a new baby on ill-prepared parents. Other parent-related factors involve a history of depression or other mental health issues, having several young children in the home, an unwanted pregnancy or a denied pregnancy.
“Child-related” risk factors are for children who are premature, have a low birth weight, or are handicapped. This is due to the extra stress inherent in raising children with special needs.

By offering help with the risk factors of child abuse, we may be able to prevent some of it from happening. Not all child abusers are bad people who want to hurt their kids. Many of them are people who have more burdens than they can bear and they just can’t handle it. Unfortunately, the kids are the ones who pay the price when these people can’t get the help they need.