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Psychological Maltreatment: A Threat to Children Not to Be Ignored

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Handbook of Child Maltreatment

Part of the book series: Child Maltreatment ((MALT,volume 14))

Abstract

Psychological maltreatment (i.e., mental injury, emotional/cognitive abuse and neglect) occurs at higher levels of prevalence and produces harm of range, magnitude and duration equal to or exceeding other forms of violence against children. Historically, it has been given the least attention of the various recognized forms of child abuse and neglect within a general context of inadequate societal understanding and intervention in its regard. This chapter is intended to help readers place the significance of child psychological maltreatment in an enlightened child rights, safety, resiliency and wellbeing context to establish a basis for determining the attention and intervention it deserves. Particular consideration is given to the expansion of the related knowledge bases for definitions, forms, risk factors, harm and promising interventions and guidance toward advances which has occurred starting with the seminal International Conference on Child Psychological Maltreatment of Children and Youth (1983) through to and immediately following the global Child Psychological Maltreatment Summit (2019). In three major sections, the authors provide: (a) the essentials of the existing knowledge base on CPM, (b) a report of the recently held global Child Psychological Maltreatment Summit, and (c) recommend priorities for advances to reduce its occurrence and harm.

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Correspondence to Stuart N. Hart .

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Child Psychological Summit Priorities for Major Intervention Themes

Child Psychological Summit Priorities for Major Intervention Themes

Children’s Voices and Cross-Cutting Issues

  1. 1.

    Children’s voices must be heard and acted on, throughout all processes and across all areas, made possible by sector-specific plans. This is of primary importance.

  2. 2.

    Adopt a child’s rights perspective which focuses on dignity, respect and agency for every child.

  3. 3.

    Acknowledge the individual and intersecting roles for government, non-profits, health, schools, philanthropy, faith and business communities.

  4. 4.

    Keep measurement, evaluation and accountability in mind for each piece of work.

Definitions, Laws and Standards

  1. 5.

    Clear definitions and criteria for CPM, resiliency and child well-being are needed in order to develop training and interventions.

  2. 6.

    A model law for the inclusion of CPM is needed.

  3. 7.

    A clear and strong presentation of CPM harm is needed.

  4. 8.

    In addition to a “negative” focus on harm (which needs to be explicit), a “positive” focus on promoting wellness and healthy child development is also needed.

  5. 9.

    The connection to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) needs to be clear. All child-serving systems need to be trauma-informed.

Healthy Child Development

  1. 10.

    Safe, stable and nurturing environments are essential for all children.

  2. 11.

    A possible rallying point may be “What does healthy child development look like?”

  3. 12.

    Communities need to support families who are isolated.

  4. 13.

    Interventions should foster the natural support and connections between people.

  5. 14.

    Engage fathers as well as mothers in initiatives.

  6. 15.

    Be aware of cultural diversity as well as power imbalances and inequities: there are multiple ways to raise healthy children.

  7. 16.

    A much broader understanding of developmental milestones is needed.

  8. 17.

    There should be a focus on social-emotional learning and development in schools.

Social Norms

  1. 18.

    Umbrella themes, a common language and a marketing plan are needed.

  2. 19.

    Change needs to be both top-down and bottom-up.

  3. 20.

    Education, skills-building, and support for promoting the safety and well-being for all families should be normalized. Universality de-stigmatizes sensitive issues.

Public Health Approach

  1. 21.

    There needs to be a shift from reactive to proactive and preventative approaches, while still supporting corrective intervention when necessary.

  2. 22.

    Pathways need to be developed to get help for families beyond or outside the involvement of social services.

  3. 23.

    Involve the Department of Health and health sectors in all aspects of CPM prevention and response.

  4. 24.

    Primary intervention begins with supporting parents prenatally.

  5. 25.

    Primary intervention should emphasize the importance of healthy attachment.

  6. 26.

    All child-serving systems need to be assets-oriented, promoting advantageous and beneficial childhood experiences.

  7. 27.

    Healthy development reduces substance abuse and suicide, and promotes future employability. These can be important advocacy hooks or entry points.

  8. 28.

    The return on investment is high in the area of CPM prevention. Cost-benefit analyses should be produced and presented.

  9. 29.

    Constructive use of technology should be maximized, for example employing child safety and well-being apps.

Interventions (Risk, Occurrence and Harm)

  1. 30.

    It is not solely a question of how children are treated, but the meaning they make of the maltreatment.

  2. 31.

    It is important to promote Connection, Competence and Compassion. These are central to resiliency for all people, children and adults alike (plus Capacity for reflection and Consistency).

  3. 32.

    Screening measures are needed for CPM, resiliency and well-being.

  4. 33.

    Relationship-based, two-generation (child and caregiver) interventions are important.

  5. 34.

    Interventions and settings should be differentiated by the age of the child.

  6. 35.

    Be aware that intervention actors, groups and/or systems might also be perpetrators of CPM.

Education, Training and Learning

  1. 36.

    Different audiences and settings need different levels of specificity and types of tools, but these should be consistent with each other and based on research.

  2. 37.

    There is an important role for early childhood care and education for training providers, parents and caregivers.

  3. 38.

    Education should be provided for adolescents, as future parents, on childcare and child development, to break generational cycles of CPM. This education can be offered in school programs and through internships and trainee programs, where adolescents practice working with young children.

  4. 39.

    It is easier to integrate CPM issues into initial training for professionals than into in-service training or continuing professional development.

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Hart, S.N., Brassard, M.R., Wernham, M. (2022). Psychological Maltreatment: A Threat to Children Not to Be Ignored. In: Krugman, R.D., Korbin, J.E. (eds) Handbook of Child Maltreatment. Child Maltreatment, vol 14. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-82479-2_4

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