Among other forms of child abuse, emotional abuse is an area that has recently been received with much concern. Emotional abuse is far-reaching touching on both acts of commission or omission. The former refers to act such as verbal abuse while the latter points to act like failure to show attention or affection towards another person. In essence, the notion of emotional abuse refers to the inability to express non-physical care or emotional unavailability as well as showing unsuitable verbal acts towards another person. There are several acts of emotional abuse that include; unfair criticism, rejection, verbal insults, isolation, ignoring and frightening. Additionally, it can be argued that some of the emotionally negligent acts towards a child involve inappropriate child care and failure to provide a child with encouragement and security. Acts that may also result in emotional child abuse to some extent include; child sexual abuse and family separations and divorce. Australia has conducted several studies regarding child abuse and more particularly on child emotional abuse. In this sense, therefore, the chief focus of this essay is to address the issue of the child emotional abuse in Australia. In so doing the paper will also be looking into the current social policy relating to the subject matter.
A Brief Overview of Child Emotional Abuse in Australia
Firstly it is important to mention that the definition of the concept, emotional abuse, has been diverse. However, although the various terms used to define it has been put across in an attempt to come up with an agreeable definition, the fact remains that there are some adverse effects directed towards a child. Other terms which have been used interchangeably include; emotional neglect, mental cruelty, psychological battering, mental injury psychological maltreatment and coercive family process (Arney & Scott, 2013). Due to its inclusiveness, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2016) maintain that the perception of the emotional abuse has continually extended to include both clinical observation and research. The reports, investigations, and substantiation of children who suffer emotional abuse in Australian have been on the increase. It is reported that among the cases of child abuse that are widely reported, about 11 percent of them entail child emotional abuse (Price-Robertson, Bromfield & Vassallo, 2010)
. The Australian Institute of Family Studies (2014) ascertains that the cases of child abuse are directly related to the child's health status. Among the major effects of child emotional abuse reported include; child's delayed emotional development, aggressiveness and passiveness, distress, anxiety, low self-esteem, shyness, fear to express emotions, and unhappiness (Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2014). If cases of child emotional abuse are not dealt with accordingly, they can result in long lasting and disturbing effects on the persons affected. The Australian state and federal governments have the responsibility for child protection against all forms of abuse and neglect.
Additionally, the most recent Australian national data which was compiled and released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare indicated 31 percent of the child emotional abuse cases between 1995 and1996 (Price-Robertson, Bromfield & Vassallo, 2010). The prevalence of emotional abuse among children of the age 0-16 rears was 0.2 percent. The following investigations on child emotional abuse have been highlighted mainly to allow the State and the Territory child protection legislations, practices and policy. Between 2014 and 2015, new figures were also released. The data as presented by Price-Robertson, Bromfield, and Vassallo (2010) indicated that about 208,111 Australian children were under the risk of abuse and or neglect or were being abused. The number was derived from the 320,169 notifications issues to the state's and territory's child protection authorities. This was a rate approximated to be 39.2 percent per every 1000 Australian children. There was notably a 5.3 percent increase in the number of notifications made between2010 and 2011.
The Australian Current Social Situation on Child Emotional Abuse
The current social situation in Australia indicates that there are numerous causes of emotional child abuse and neglect. Essentially, it is important to note that child emotional abuse, like other forms of child abuse, permeates across the religious, ethnic group, and the socioeconomic groups (Australian Institute of Family Studies, 1999). Moreover, the prevalence of child emotional abuse indicates that there is a substantial correlation between the adults, children and the environment. Adult acts or attitudes towards children have been cited as some of the social causes of the abuse (Irenyi et al. 2006). Lack or inadequate knowledge and skills among some adults have resulted in child emotional abuse. These factors include; marital difficulties, general lack of interpersonal skills, inappropriate parenting skills, lack of self-control, and problems with coping with situations (Douglas & Walsh, 2010). When an adult has inadequate knowledge about a child development stage, for instance, he/she can lead to abuse behaviour. This according to the CFCA Child Family Community Australia (2016) is mostly manifested in cases where behavioural patterns of violence are adopted as a child correction strategy or as a way of solving family problems.
In addition, other situations such as physical illness and the inability of the parents or adults to empathise with children increase the likelihood of emotional child abuse (DeKlyen & Greenberg, 2008). In most cases, this outcome is precipitated by social isolation or social stress in the family. Similarly, it may also occur due to lack of support by the support networks. According to DeKlyen and Greenberg (2008), parental child emotional abuse can also emanate from the family's poverty level or drugs and substances abuse by the parents or carers. Another factor that predisposes children to emotional abuse includes a child's age, the level of mental, emotional, physical and social development (Irenyi et al. 2006). For instance, younger children are more prone to emotional abuse due to their age and development status. Although Douglas and Walsh (2010) argue that children are not responsible for their emotional abuse, children's behaviour such as unresponsiveness and aversive crying increases the risk for abuse. In this case, therefore, child abuse may result to the adult's inability to control his/her emotions and lack of empathy towards the child. Again, children born with abnormalities or who develop them later or even become disabled may be isolated thus suffer from emotional abuse.
Family circumstance is another social factor that has lead to child emotional abuse. Family issues such as marital conflict, social isolation, constrained relationship with the extended family and domestic violence (Cross et al. et al. 2012: Douglas & Walsh, 2010)). For this reason, families that are likely to inflict emotional abuse to the children portray family interactions mainly characterised by low or no responsiveness to positive behaviour but extreme responsiveness to negative behaviour, less social exchange, inconsistent and ineffective child punishment and discipline instilling. Also, equally important child emotional abuse contributory factor is the environment (Fraser et al., 2010). The environmental factors are closely linked to the family, child and adult factors. Some of the identifiable environmental factors that have resulted in child abuse include; change in the family structure, unemployment or financial constraints (Fraser et al., 2010). Consequently, Fraser et al., (2010) argue that parents who are not able to cope with the changing environment may not be in a position to care for their children hence they (children) are likely to be abused emotionally. Conditions such as poverty and lack of income trigger stress hence have been associated with the heightening rate of child emotional abuse in Australia. Additionally, structural factors that include housing and health have been found to trigger child abuse and neglect. Within the structural factor of child emotional abuse, one must also consider the child abuse that occurs as a result of insufficient welfare resources which may be caused by incongruous procedures practices and policies in both institutional and governmental departments (Darlington, Feeney & Rickson, 2004).
The Current Social Policy for Child Emotional Abuse in Australia
As aforementioned, the Australian state and territory play the primary role in the formulation and implementation of the policies, services, and programs meant to prevent child abuse. They also act responsibly in ensuring children protection and support as well as extending support to the families of the abuse victims. Although the Commonwealth contribution is relatively lesser, it helps in financing the National Child Protection Clearinghouse, research and a few of programs related to child abuse protection. Nevertheless, in the recent years, the issue of child abuse protection has received a lot of public interest more so by the governments. The aim is to enhance child protection policies, programs, and strategies to assuage the problem (Pietrantonio et al., 2013). Although Australia has had some policies aimed at alleviating child abuse, it is evident that the past Australian policies for child protection have not been adequately effective thus unsustainable. Consequently, there has been a major consideration in Australia about the child protection policy thus the adoption of the public health-related policy in protecting the Australian children, promoting the translation of research into practice and policy as well as enhancing its sustainability (Norman et al., 2012). However, before the discussion of this current policy, it is equally vital to address the historical happenings that have led to the selection of the new policy.
The second half of the 19th century marked the first Australian child protection. The movement was initially known as the child saving or rescue movement (Scott, 2006). Before the formation of the child rescue movement, the Australian government used to provide support for the needy and orphans. It should be noted that the government did not have specified intervention strategies for abused children. Upon the formation of the child protection movement, a law was passed to protect children against any form of cruelty or serious physical abuse (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, 2012). The legislation later led to the constitutional/legal intervention whereby both government and the quasi-government organizations were directly involved in people's family lives (Scott, 2006). Scott (2006) also contends that the press was at the forefront of the child protection movement not only in the first wave but also in the second.
The new awakening to child abuse and the formation of the consecutive and the most recent child protection policy in Australia came as a result of the various studies that depicted child abuse. Scott (2006) cites two publications as the major factors that led to the development of new child protection policy. That is the Medical Journal of Australia entitled The Maltreatment Syndrome in Children and Kempe's publication. It was noted that majority of the children admitted in Melbourne Royal Children's Hospital had injuries and fractures that seemingly were not accidental. Other children admitted under state care portrayed some form of developmental retardation which was as a result of child neglect (DeKlyen & Greenberg, 2008). Laws and policies aimed at protecting child physical abuse were developed in the second wave of the child protection movement. In other words, acts of child abuse were rendered as criminal offense liable to punishment. According to Scott (2006), the changes within the child protection systems were precipitated by two major aspects. These include the entitlement of a child to fundamental human rights and the perception of a child as a psychological being.
Public Health Child Protection Policy in Australia
Scott (2006) makes a chief difference between the legal and the public health child protection policy. He notes that although the legal process manages a few cases of child abuse and neglect, public policy is more encompassing. Public health approach is in-depth in that it takes in the primary, secondary and tertiary strategies. Scott (2016) juxtaposes the effectiveness of the public health policy for child abuse protection and the challenges the policy has met so far. He points to the shortness of the previously established policies and the success the same policy is likely to meet in Australia. In this sense, therefore, the need for behavioural and attitude change is advocated if the policy has to be sustainable. To ensure that the health public policy is sustainable, there is the need to address the primary prevention strategies. The primary prevention strategy, in this case, involves dealing with the environmental predicaments. For instance, among the plentiful environmental reported morbidity and mortality cases include; drowning, motor vehicle accidents, burns, chocking by objects. Scott (2016) argues that such cases notifications have declined significantly following the child protection legislation and regulation. Some of the preventive regulations proposed include; installation of safety seat belts, labeling of poisons, fencing and securing swimming pools, putting warnings on small swallowable objects and wearing non-flammable wears (NSW Department of Community Services, 2007). The observation of these and more warnings, advice and directives minimizes parental guidance and overprotection.
In the course of the policy implementation, it is important to also put into consideration the children's overall health and education services. The former and the latter are likely to reduce child emotional abuse. Additionally, there is also the focus of work not only with the prone families but also the affected communities. Also, in order to ensure that the policy is effective enough, Scott purposes the need to deal with the professional and organizational setbacks that may limit the implementation of the policy. The public health intervention strategy is all-sided in that it addresses both the causal and the contributory factors relating to child abuse and neglect. It is a government influenced policy that extensively touches on the child's wellbeing, education, and health. Also, included in the policy is the issue of employment and housing services. The selection and the adoption of the health public policy to curb child abuse and neglect may have been promoted by the fact that there is an intrinsic correspondence between child abuse and neglect with several other problems. These other associations include; high rate of school dropouts, illiteracy, child underweight during birth, unwanted teenage pregnancies, juvenile crimes, children behavioral disorders, and drug and substances use. Conversely, health social policy promotes family social support, parent-children connection, and peer friends connectedness.
Recommendations for Future Policy and Services to Promote Positive Social Change in the Child Emotional Abuse in Australia
While the importance of the public health child protection policy cannot be underestimated, there is the need to also look into a policy that addresses child abuse not only regarding health but also expound on risky areas. Here, one would point a setting such as a school. A lot of child abuse could be evident from the teachers and children or between the children peers (Frederick & Goddard, 2010). Acts of emotional child abuse affect the children psychologically, and the impacts are notable in the academic performance. Hence, the policy should not only focus on the tangible causes of child abuse but also the intangible. The notion emphasized, in this case, is the abusive factor such as the technology. Perhaps, very little has been done concerning the emotional abuse that children face in their access to the internet. Aspects such as cyber bullying and negative social media labeling can adversely affect a child (Arseneault, Bowes & Shakoor, 2010). Therefore, there should be measures put in place to ensure that children access to the internet is limited.
In conclusion, although the issue of child emotional abuse has received some consideration in the recent decades, commendable intervention strategies been tried all with the aim of ensuring child protection. While the problem is prevalent in Australia, it is a common problem in most parts of the world. Additionally, it is evident that the current public health policy for child protection is likely to play a primary role in curbing child abuse and neglect. The policy is inclusive in that it includes the child's health status and support, support to the affected families, the causal and contributing factors towards child abuse and also addresses the environmental factors relating to the same. In general, fight against child abuse if the responsibility of every person in the society.
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