Reference Work Entry

Handbook of Clinical Psychology Competencies

pp 1515-1540

Child Physical Abuse and Neglect

  • Lenore E. WalkerAffiliated withNova Southeastern University


Child abuse exists everywhere in the world, in all cultures and ethnic groups, resulting in huge economic and personal costs. Legal and health professionals have studied the causes and treatment methods to try to prevent and mitigate the harm done by abuse, especially from parents or other caregivers. This chapter provides the legal issues and definitions in physical abuse and neglect, maltreatment, and psychological abuse looking at the recent history and current laws. Information is given about the child protection system in the USA and other countries. Psychological theories of why parents abuse their children are discussed and the psychological harm such abuse has on their children using a developmental perspective and emphasizing the learned behavior from one generation to the next. Basic and special competencies needed by health professionals to work in this area are also described including psychological assessment of children and abusers. Standardized psychological tests and assessment inventories commonly used by psychologists are reviewed. Various psychotherapy interventions with children and parents are listed including offender-specific treatment for abusers, cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectic behavior therapy, family systems therapy, EMDR, and supportive therapy. Prevention strategies following a public health model of decreasing risks and strengthening resiliencies is discussed. Expert competencies are described for clinicians providing forensic evaluations and serving as expert witnesses. Numerous references are available for further information.