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What are the effects of family violence?

Written By : SUNILA KARAN. As you might imagine, child abuse is not good for human development. Physically abused and otherwise maltreated children tend to have many problems, ranging from
16 Oct 2010 12:00

image Written By : SUNILA KARAN. As you might imagine, child abuse is not good for human development.
Physically abused and otherwise maltreated children tend to have many problems, ranging from physical injuries and cognitive and social deficits to behavioural problems and psychological disorders.
Shaking and other physical abusive behaviours can cause brain damage in infants and young children, the stress of either being abused or witnessing abuse can interfere with normal brain development, and child neglect means receiving little of the intellectual stimulation from nurturing adults that contributes so much to intellectual growth (Liard & Doris, 1993).
Not surprisingly, then, intellectual deficits and academic difficulties are common among mistreated children.
Behavioural problems are also common among physically abused children.
Many tend to be explosively aggressive youngsters, rejected by their peers for that reason.
They learn from their experience with an abusive parent to be supersensitive to angry emotions; as a result, they may perceive anger in peers where there is none and lash out to protect themselves.
Even as adults, individuals who were abused as children not only tend to be violent, both inside and outside the family, but also tend to have higher-than-average rates of depression, anxiety, and other psychological problems.
The social skills of many abused children are also deficient.
One of the most disturbing consequences of physical abuse is a lack of normal empathy in response to the distress of others.
Remarkable, as it may seem, many other neglected and abused children turn out fine.
What distinguishes these children from the ones who have long-term problems?
Part of the reason may be that they have genes that protect them from the negative psychological effects of abuse and possibly other stressful life events.
Psychologist Avshalom Caspi (2003), in a study, found that maltreatment during childhood increases the likelihood of clinical depression among individuals with a genetic-makeup that predisposes them to depression but not among individual with a genetic makeup known to protect against depression.
Indeed, among individuals whose genes protect against depression, the rate of depression is no higher among adults who were maltreated as children than among adults who were not.
It seems, then, that genes and environment interact to determine the life outcomes of abused and maltreated children.
Maltreatment appears to do long term damage to some children but to affect other children less, depending partly on whether their genes protect them from, or make them vulnerable to, the damaging effects of stress.
Environmental factors can also make a big difference for example, a close relationship with at least one non-abusive adult helps protect children against the destruction effects of abuse.

Battling Family Violence

That family violence has many causes is discouraging. Where do we begin to intervene, and just how many problems must we correct before we can prevent or stop the violence and its damaging effects on development?
Maybe we need to consider first the task of preventing violence before it starts.
This requires identifying high-risk families.
For example, once we know that an infant is at risk for abuse because she/he is particularly irritable or unresponsive, it makes sense to help the child’s parents appreciate the baby’s positive qualities.
Learning how to elicit smiles, reflexes, and other positive responses from premature infants make parents more responsive to their babies, which in turn helps these at- risk babies develop more normally.
Better yet, efforts to prevent abuse can be directed at the combination of a high-risk parent and a high-risk child.
Studies have shown that parents who feel powerless as parents as a result often believe that their children are deliberately trying to annoy or get the best of them.
Such parents are especially likely to become abusive if they face the challenge of raising a child who is unresponsive and difficult.
Home visitation programmes aimed at empowering mothers who score high on family stress, and teaching these mothers to analyse the causes of care-giving problems without blaming either themselves or their children and to devise and try solutions to care-giving problems on their own.
What about parents who are already abusive? Here the challenge is more difficult.
Occasional visits by the social worker are unlikely to solve the problem.
A more promising approach can be a self-help programme, like the alcoholic anonymous, where care-givers understand their problems and receive emotional support that they often lack.
However, the social service system needs to distinguish more sharply between milder forms of abuse, for which supportive interventions such as the self-help programmes are appropriate, and severe forms of abuse, where it may be necessary to prosecute the abuser and protect the children from injury and death by removing them from the home.
Courts traditionally have been hesitant to break families, but too often children who have been seriously abused are repeatedly abused.
A comprehensive approach is likely to be most effective.
Abusive parents need emotional support and the opportunity to learn more effective parenting, problem-solving, and coping skills, and the victims of abuse need day care programmes and developmental training to help them overcome cognitive, social, and emotional deficits caused by abuse.
The goal in combating child abuse and other forms of family violence must be to convert a pathological family into a healthy one.
Without question, child abuse has damaging long-term consequences for the cognitive, social, and emotional development of many victims. Moreover, witnessing marital violence has many of the same negative effects as being abused. The important question then becomes this: Knowing what we know about the causes and effects of abuse, what can be done to prevent it, stop it, and undo the damage?


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