Safeguarding Children from abuse

Safeguarding Children from abuse

Despite much progress, it is still the case that the emotional and psychological aspects of children’s lives are the least well understood and the most challenging. They still remain neglected areas of enquiry whenever more tangible abuses are suspected. The three most infamous cases of the last decade illustrate this point. Victoria Climbié and Baby P in Haringey and Khyra Ishaq in Birmingham, all suffered unimaginable suffering and death at the hands of brutal and sadistic “carers”. But we can be almost certain (as the evidence starkly shows in the Climbié case [Laming, 2003]) that Victoria, Peter and Khyra were also subjected to sustained emotional and psychological abuse which was never recognised by any of the professionals involved. If numerous professionals from health, social services and education were not able to see self-evident physical abuse, they were hardly likely to be able to identify the sustained and repetitive emotional and psychological abuse to which all three children were undoubtedly subjected. Kieran O’Hagan’s excellent literature on the impact of  abuse on child development is a valuable tool for any professional working with babies and young children as the following extract from his article “Guide to the impact of emotional and psychological abuse on child development” demonstrates:

Psychological abuse is behaviour that impedes or impairs these mental faculties and processes. Such behaviour is often sustained and repetitive, and perpetrators are often unaware of its impact. It lowers a child’s capacity to comprehend his or her environment; it retards self-confidence and the means by which one influences their social world. It confuses and frightens, and often renders the victim vulnerable and helpless.

Emotional abuse is defined as a period of sustained, repetitive and, inappropriate emotional responses to the child’s felt emotions and their accompanying expressive behaviour (O’Hagan, 1993, 1995). If a child is in constant pain, distress or discomfort, and the parent ignores the child, or repeatedly responds with anger, exasperation or contempt, then the child is being emotionally abused, and such abuse impedes emotional development. It also impedes the onset of speech development in babies. It retards the process in which a child acquires the ability to feel and express different emotions appropriately, and eventually, to regulate and control them. It impacts adversely on the child’s educational, social and cultural development; psychological development; relationships in adulthood; and career prospects. In new-born babies, emotional abuse will also have a devastating effect upon physical dObserving emotionally abusive interactions and their effects

Childcare workers have the opportunity to learn about the emotional relationship between primary carer and baby through observing these emotional interactions over a period of time. Numerous observations are necessary for comprehensive assessment, and observations should preferably be shared between different professionals. They may also see indicators of causes. Chronic poverty, debt, neglect and violence may ensure poor quality of interaction between a mother and her infant.

Feeding time can often be very revealing. If for example, feeding is constantly seen to be a burdensome chore or a cause of anxiety in the carer, then it is unlikely to be accompanied by those loving, mutually-satisfying emotional interactions normally accompanying it. Instead, the carer is likely to be displaying irritation, impatience, and possibly, outbursts of bad temper. If this is typical of the conditions and relationship existing during all feeding, it will not only be immensely damaging to emotional development, but may lead to the life-threatening failure-to-thrive syndrome (Abramson, 1991; Iwaniec, 1995; O’Hagan, 1993). A baby will simply be unable to consume and digest food normally in such unpleasant circumstances. The baby may stop eating, may continually turn his/her head away, may respond to more force being used in inserting the food-laden spoon and may be more prone to vomiting. This will of course exacerbate the carer’s sense of inadequacy in not being able to do something as basic as feeding her own child. A vicious circle is set in motion, in which the negative emotions expressed by the carer (irritation, impatience and bad temper are primarily responsible for the baby’s difficulty in eating) are likely to be intensified. development.


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