When a child experiences physical or emotional abuse, the wounds run skin deep. Kids who suffer repeated trauma feel lonely, scared, worthless and unloved, which is exactly the opposite of how children should feel. Abused children often become broken, hollow and bitter, with mental consequences that last long after the physical wounds have healed.
According to the non-profit organization Prevent Child Abuse New York (PCANY), several factors cause some people to have difficulty meeting the demands of parenthood, leading them to become abusive when they reach a breaking point or don’t know what else to do. These factors include immaturity, unrealistic expectations, emotional problems, economic crisis, lack of parenting knowledge, difficulty in relationships, depression and other mental health problems. When the stress of childcare combines with anxiety from other sources, some parents lack the skills to cope with it in healthy ways. Instead, their tempers get the best of them in times of crisis.
The two main causes of child abuse are domestic violence and substance abuse. Children who live in households where violence is present usually end up becoming victims themselves. PCANY reports that 50 to 70 percent of men who abuse their female partners also abuse their children.
Substance abuse is another leading cause of child abuse. According to PCANY, drugs or alcohol contribute to 70 percent of cases of child maltreatment, meaning physical abuse or neglect. Kids under 5 are the most susceptible to abuse or neglect by a substance-abusing parent and represent the fastest growing population of foster children.
The most obvious effect of child abuse is physical injury to the child. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, physical injuries can be minor, such as bruises, or severe, such as broken bones or even death, but the pain and suffering leaves much deeper emotional scars.
Sometimes, abuse can lead to lasting or recurring health problems, such as shaken baby syndrome or impaired brain development. Abused babies and toddlers are especially vulnerable to injuries to important regions of the brain that are still developing, causing long-term problems with cognitive, language and academic abilities. CWIG reports that adults who experience abuse or neglect during childhood are more likely to suffer from physical ailments such as arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, high blood pressure and ulcers.
Kids who get abused often feel isolated, fearful and untrusting, and these immediate emotional effects can transform into lifelong consequences, including low self-esteem, depression and relationship difficulties. According to the CWIG, about 80 percent of young adults who were abused as children met the diagnostic criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder at age 21, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders and suicide.
Other psychological conditions associated with abuse are panic disorder, dissociative disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and reactive attachment disorder. CWIG also reports that many kids who are abused score lower than average on tests of cognitive ability, language development and academic achievement.
According to CWIG, abused and neglected kids are 25 percent more likely to experience problems such as delinquency, teen pregnancy and teen drug use and 11 times more likely to be arrested for criminal behavior as a juvenile. CWIG says about 66 percent of people in drug treatment programs report being abused as children, and over 30 percent of abused and neglected kids eventually victimize their own children.