One of the primary goals of all parents is to protect and care about their children and make everything possible to let them enter adulthood while being mentally and physically stable and developed. Unfortunately, some children are not protected properly, and while growing up, they have to face various kinds of abuse and neglect. Maltreatment is an extremely dangerous and severe problem that is challenging to be eliminated. It traumatizes children and damages their current and future lives. The purpose of this paper is to explain the impact of abuse on children, examine how different types of abuse impact a child’s cognitive and socio-emotional development and discuss the trauma-informed care approach.
The Impact of Physical Abuse and Neglect on Children
Child neglect and abuse are severe public health and social issues that are unfortunately faced by an extended number of kids and adolescents. Such actions that can be considered physical violence or lack of necessary care may lead to a wide range of adverse and extremely serious consequences for young people and children. Psychologists note that “abuse or neglect may stunt physical development of the child’s brain and lead to psychological problems, such as low self-esteem” (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2019, p. 1). Moreover, fear of making friends and socializing with adults, tendency to depression, drug and alcohol use at a young age, suicidal behavior, and exposure to harmful influences are common for children facing maltreatment (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2019). Therefore, various psychological and physical developmental delays may result from abuse and neglect.
For instance, an emotionally unstable and violent father may damage his child’s ability to form trusting and healthy relationships with other children or adults. For neglected and abused kids, the world seems to be a dangerous, frightening, and unstable place (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2019). Undoubtedly, such a perception damages their sense of self-worth and undermines their ability to adapt to and cope with the environment and society.
The Long-Term Impact on Adulthood
Unfortunately, in most cases, violence faced by kids does not stop affecting them when they grow up and enter adulthood. Researchers note that “aside from the immediate physical injuries children can experience through maltreatment, a child’s reactions to abuse or neglect can have lifelong and even intergenerational impacts” (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2019, p. 1). It is not easy and rather unlikely to destroy all possible long-term effects even after successfully eliminating the threat itself. It is stated that “childhood maltreatment can be linked to later physical, psychological, and behavioral consequences as well as costs to society as a whole” (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2019, p. 1). Therefore, an adult who was abused in childhood may be mentally or physically unstable, and such an effect can impact not only this particular individual and his or her personal life but also all other people.
If such problems remain unaddressed, maltreatment is likely to contribute to a number of later problems, including substance abuse, multiple sexual partners, alcoholism, domestic violence, depression, suicidal attempts and thoughts, and exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. After growing up, a person may continue perceiving the world and other people as a threat and oneself as untalented, not worthy of happiness, and guilty of everyone’s mistakes (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2019). What is more, those adults who were abused and neglected in childhood are likely to act the same way with their children, spouses, and other people. That is why it is necessary to help kids and adolescents deal with violence, eliminate its consequences, and start living a happy life.
The Impact of Different Types of Abuse on a Child’s Cognitive and Socio-Emotional Development
Various kinds of maltreatment, including physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse and exposure to violence, may have an inevitable and severe influence on children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development. Murray et al. (2014) notice that all types of child maltreatment are associated with emotional dysfunction. For example, physical and sexual abuse and neglect experiences are related to poorer perceived physical health (Murray et al., 2014). Interestingly, emotional abuse may lead to better academic performance, which may indicate children’s fear of disappointing their parents and provoking them of abuse (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2019). The scientists also notice that sexual abuse is uniquely related to memory functioning and language deficits (Murray et al., 2014). Finally, all types of abuse, witnessing domestic violence, and neglect can cause lower spatial working and recognition memory, impairments in working memory for positive emotions and verbal short-term memory, which is connected with cognitive functioning.
Incorporating the Trauma-Informed Care Approach
It is hard to disagree that social service workers and psychologists need to promptly recognize that violence and abuse are being committed against a child. Apart from recognizing it, they have to take all measures in order not to aggravate but to improve the situation. That is why the trauma-informed care approach is extremely necessary for the human service field. Such a method “understands and considers the pervasive nature of trauma and promotes environments of healing and recovery rather than practices and services that may inadvertently re-traumatize” (“What is trauma-informed care?”, 2020, para. 1). In other words, the trauma-informed care approach “assumes that an individual is more likely than not to have a history of trauma” (“What is trauma-informed care?”, 2020, para. 1). Social service workers who incorporate this method need to recognize the presence of specific symptoms of trauma and acknowledge the role it can play in the life of a person.
In Sam’s particular case, it is especially crucial for the social worker to incorporate a trauma-informed care approach. Therefore, “creating a physically and emotionally safe environment, establishing trust and boundaries, supporting autonomy and choice,” and being calm, kind, and caring are the basic principles of working with Sam (“What is trauma-informed care?”, 2020, para. 1). His social service worker should not blame the boy for getting into fights at school and having significant challenges in understanding and completing his work. Instead, the social worker needs to assume that Sam was facing or is still facing abuse and neglect and let the boy feel safe and comfortable. It will reduce re-traumatization and promote healing, and Sam is likely to start listening to and trusting the social worker.
He or she should tell the boy that it is normal to feel angry, scared, offended, and irritated, but besides getting into fights, there are other ways of dealing with these emotions. It is extremely necessary to make sure that Sam is not afraid of the social worker and does not feel guilty or ashamed. On the contrary, the social services worker’s purpose is to let the boy feel safe and understand that the worker is not abusing him but trying to help.
To draw a conclusion, one may say that it is impossible to underestimate the influence of child abuse and neglect on their current and future lives. Maltreatment is an extremely severe and dangerous issue that damages kids’ and adults’ lives and is challenging to be eliminated. Sexual, psychological, and physical abuse, as well as exposure to violence, are likely to traumatize children and influence their cognitive and socio-emotional development. That is why social service workers should incorporate a trauma-informed care approach in order not to worsen the possible traumas of the kids they work with.
Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2019). Long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect [PDF document]. Web.
Murray, L. K., Nguyen, A., & Cohen, J. A. (2014). Child sexual abuse. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 23(2), 321–337.
What is trauma-informed care? (2020). University at Buffalo. Web.