Child maltreatment is a devastating social problem in American society. In 1990, over 2 million cases of child abuse and neglect were reported to social service agencies. In the period 1979 through 1988, about 2,000 child deaths (ages 0-17) were recorded annually as a result of abuse and neglect (McClain et al., 1993), and an additional 160,000 cases resulted in serious injuries in 1990 alone (Daro and McCurdy, 1991). However tragic and sensational, the counts of deaths and serious injuries provide limited insight into the pervasive long-term social, behavioral, and cognitive consequences of child abuse and neglect. Reports of child maltreatment alone also reveal little about the interactions among individuals, families, communities, and society that lead to such incidents.
American society has not yet recognized the complex origins or the profound consequences of child victimization. The services required for children who have been abused or neglected, including medical care, family counseling, foster care, and specialized education, are expensive and are often subsidized by governmental funds. The General Accounting Office (1991) has estimated that these services cost more than $500 million annually. Equally disturbing, research suggests that child maltreatment cases are highly related to social problems such as juvenile delinquency, substance abuse, and violence, which require additional services and severely affect the quality of life for many American families.
The Importance Of Child Maltreatment Research
The challenges of conducting research in the field of child maltreatment are enormous. Although we understand comparatively little about the causes, definitions, treatment, and prevention of child abuse and neglect, we do know enough to recognize that the origins and consequences of child victimization are not confined to the months or years in which reported incidents actually occurred. For those who survive, the long-term consequences of child maltreatment appear to be more damaging to victims and their families, and more costly for society, than the immediate or acute injuries themselves. Yet little is invested in understanding the factors that predispose, mitigate, or prevent the behavioral and social consequences of child maltreatment.
The panel has identified five key reasons why child maltreatment research should be viewed as a central nexus of more comprehensive research activity.
Research on child maltreatment can provide scientific information that will help with the solution of a broad range of individual and social disorders. Research in this field is demonstrating that experiences with child abuse and neglect are a major component of many child and adult mental and behavioral disorders, including delayed development, poor academic performance, delinquency, depression, alcoholism, substance abuse, deviant sexual behaviors, and domestic and criminal violence.
Many forms of child abuse and neglect are treatable and avoidable, and many severe consequences of child maltreatment can be diminished with proper attention and assistance. Research on child abuse and neglect provides an opportunity for society to address, and ultimately prevent, a range of individual and social disorders that impair the health and quality of life of millions of America's children as well as their families and communities.
Research on child maltreatment can provide insights and knowledge that can directly benefit victims of child abuse and neglect and their families. Individuals who have been victimized as a result of child maltreatment deserve to have research efforts dedicated to their experience, in the same manner as our society invests in scientific research for burn victims, victims of genetic or infectious diseases, or those who are subjected to other forms of trauma. Yet the families of child abuse and neglect victims are often not active in social and political organizations. Unable to speak for themselves or employ paid representatives to promote their interests, they have been discounted and overlooked in the process of determining what social problems deserve public resources and attention from the American research community.
Research on child maltreatment can reduce long-term economic costs associated with treating the consequences of child maltreatment,
in areas such as mental health services, foster care, juvenile delinquency, and family violence.
Economic issues must also be considered in evaluating long-term treatment costs and loss of earnings associated with the consequences of child victimization. One analysis cited by the General Accounting Office that used prevalence and treatment rates generated from multiple studies (Daro, 1988) calculated potential fiscal costs resulting from child abuse estimates as follows: (1) Assuming a 20 percent delinquency rate among adolescent abuse victims, requiring an average of 2 years in a correctional institution, the public cost of their incarceration would be more than $14.8 million. (2) If 1 percent of severely abused children suffer permanent disabilities, the annual cost of community services (estimated at $13 per day) for treating developmentally disabled children would increase by $1.1 million. (3) The future lost productivity of severely abused children is $658-1300 million annually, if their impairments limit their potential earnings by only 5-10 percent.
Research on child maltreatment can provide empirical evidence to improve the quality of many legal and organizational decisions that have broad-based social implications. Government officials, judges, legislators, social service personnel, child welfare advocates, and others make hundreds of crucial decisions each day about the lives and futures of child victims and their offenders. These decisions include the selection of cases of suspected child abuse and neglect for investigation and determinations about which children should remain with families in which abuse has occurred. Individuals making such decisions will benefit from informed guidance on the effectiveness and consequences of various social interventions that address child maltreatment. Such guidance can evolve from research on the outcomes of alternative responses to reports of child abuse and neglect, results of therapeutic and social service interventions, and cost-effectiveness studies. For example, research that describes the conditions under which family counseling and family preservation efforts are effective has tremendous implications for the importance of attachment relationships for children and the disruption of these relationships brought on by foster care.
Research on the etiology of child maltreatment can provide a scientific basis for primary prevention of child abusethat is, through programs that will counteract etiological factors before they have a chance to produce child abuse in the next generation.
Research On Child Maltreatment Is Currently
Undervalued And Undeveloped
Research in the field of child maltreatment studies is relatively undeveloped when compared with related fields such as child development, so-
cial welfare, and criminal violence. Although no specific theory about the causes of child abuse and neglect has been substantially replicated across studies, significant progress has been gained in the past few decades in identifying the dimensions of complex phenomena that contribute to the origins of child maltreatment.
Efforts to improve the quality of research on any group of children are dependent on the value that society assigns to the potential inherent in young lives. Although more adults are available in American society today as service providers to care for children than was the case in 1960, a disturbing number of recent reports have concluded that American children are in trouble (Fuchs and Reklis, 1992; National Commission on Children, 1991; Children's Defense Fund, 1991).
Efforts to encourage greater investments in research on children will be futile unless broader structural and social issues can be addressed within our society. Research on general problems of violence, substance addiction, social inequality, unemployment, poor education, and the treatment of children in the social services system is incomplete without attention to child maltreatment issues. Research on child maltreatment can play a key role in informing major social policy decisions concerning the services that should be made available to children, especially children in families or neighborhoods that experience significant stress and violence.
As a nation, we already have developed laws and regulatory approaches to reduce and prevent childhood injuries and deaths through actions such as restricting hot water temperatures and requiring mandatory child restraints in automobiles. These important precedents suggest how research on risk factors can provide informed guidance for social efforts to protect all of America's children in both familial and other settings.
Not only has our society invested relatively little in research on children, but we also have invested even less in research on children whose families are characterized by multiple problems, such as poverty, substance abuse, violence, welfare dependency, and child maltreatment. In part, this slower development is influenced by the complexities of research on major social problems. But the state of research on this topic could be advanced more rapidly with increased investment of funds. In the competition for scarce research funds, the underinvestment in child maltreatment research needs to be understood in the context of bias, prejudice, and the lack of a clear political constituency for children in general and disadvantaged children in particular (Children's Defense Fund, 1991; National Commission on Children, 1991). Factors such as racism, ethnic discrimination, sexism, class bias, institutional and professional jealousies, and social inequities influence the development of our national research agenda (Bell, 1992, Huston, 1991).
The evolving research agenda has also struggled with limitations im-
posed by attempting to transfer the results of sample-specific studies to diverse groups of individuals. The roles of culture, ethnic values, and economic factors pervade the development of parenting practices and family dynamics. In setting a research agenda for this field, ethnic diversity and multiple cultural perspectives are essential to improve the quality of the research program and to overcome systematic biases that have restricted its development.
Researchers must address ethical and legal issues that present unique obligations and dilemmas regarding selection of subjects, provision of services, and disclosure of data. For example, researchers who discover an undetected incident of child abuse in the course of an interview are required by state laws to disclose the identities of the victim and offender(s), if known, to appropriate child welfare officials. These mandatory reporting requirements, adopted in the interests of protecting children, may actually cause long-term damage to children by restricting the scope of research studies and discouraging scientists from developing the knowledge base necessary to guide social interventions.
Substantial efforts are now required to reach beyond the limitations of current knowledge and to gain new insights that can improve the quality of social service efforts and public policy decisions affecting the health and welfare of abused and neglected children and their families. Most important, collaborative long-term research ventures are necessary to diminish social, professional, and institutional prejudices that have restricted the development of a comprehensive knowledge base that can improve understanding of, and response to, child maltreatment.
Dimensions Of Child Abuse And Neglect
The human dimensions of child maltreatment are enormous and tragic. The U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect has called the problem of child maltreatment ''an epidemic" in American society, one that requires a critical national emergency response.
The scale and severity of child abuse and neglect has caused various public and private organizations to mobilize efforts to raise public awareness of individual cases and societal trends, to improve the reporting and tracking of child maltreatment cases, to strengthen the responses of social service systems, and to develop an effective and fair system for protecting and offering services to victims while also punishing adults who deliberately harm children or place them in danger. Over the past several decades, a growing number of state and federal funding programs, governmental reports, specialized journals, and research centers, as well as national and international societies and conferences, have examined various dimensions of the problem of child maltreatment.
The results of these efforts have been inconsistent and uneven. In addressing aspects of each new revelation of abuse or each promising new intervention, research efforts often have become diffuse, fragmented, specific, and narrow. What is lacking is a coordinated approach and a general conceptual framework that can add new depth to our understanding of child maltreatment. A coordinated approach can accommodate diverse perspectives while providing direction and guidance in establishing research priorities and synthesizing research knowledge. Organizational mechanisms are also needed to facilitate the application and integration of research on child maltreatment in related areas such as child development, family violence, substance abuse, and juvenile delinquency.
Child maltreatment is not a new problem, yet concerted service, research, and policy attention toward it is just beginning. Although isolated studies of child maltreatment appeared in the medical and sociological literature in the first half of the twentieth century, the publication of "The Battered Child Syndrome" by C. Henry Kempe and associates (1962) is generally considered the first definitive paper in the field in the United States. The efforts of Kempe and others to publicize disturbing medical experience with child abuse and neglect led to the passage of the first Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act in 1974 (P.L. 93-247). The act, which has been amended several times (most recently in 1992), established a governmental program designed to guide and consolidate national and state data collection efforts regarding reports of child abuse and neglect, conduct national surveys of household violence, and sponsor research and demonstration programs to prevent, identify, and treat child abuse and neglect.
However, the federal government's leadership role in building a research base in this area has been complicated by changes and inconsistencies in research plans and priorities, limited funding, politicized peer review, fragmentation of effort among various federal agencies, poorly scheduled proposal review deadlines, and bias introduced by competing institutional objectives.1 The lack of comprehensive, long-term planning for a research base has resulted in a field characterized by contradictions, conflict, and fragmentation. The role of the National Center for Child Abuse and Neglect as the lead federal agency in supporting research in this field has been sharply criticized (U.S. Advisory Board, 1991). Many observers believe that the federal government lacks leadership, funding, and an effective research program for studies on child maltreatment.
The Complexity Of Child Maltreatment
Child maltreatment was originally seen in the form of "the battered child," often portrayed in terms of physical abuse. Today, four general categories of child maltreatment are generally recognized: (1) physical
abuse, (2) sexual abuse, (3) neglect, and (4) emotional maltreatment. Each category covers a range of behaviors, as discussed in Chapter 2.
These four categories have become the focus of separate studies of incidence and prevalence, etiology, prevention, consequences, and treatment, with uneven development of research within each area and poor integration of knowledge across areas. Each category has developed its own typology and framework of reference terms, revealing certain similarities (such as the importance of developmental perspectives in considering the consequences of maltreatment) but also important differences (such as the predatory behavior associated with some forms of sexual abuse that do not appear in the etiology of other forms of child maltreatment).
In addition to the category of child maltreatment, the duration, source, intensity, timing, and situational context of incidents of child victimization are now recognized as important factors in studying the origin and consequences of child maltreatment. Yet information about these factors is rarely requested or recorded by social agencies or health professionals in the process of identifying or documenting reports of child maltreatment. Furthermore, research is often weakened by variation in research definitions of child maltreatment, bias in the recruitment of research subjects, the absence of information regarding circumstances surrounding maltreatment reports, the absence of measures to assess selected variables under study, and the absence of a developmental perspective in many research studies.
The co-occurrence of different forms of child maltreatment has been examined only to a limited extent. Relatively little is known about areas of similarity and differences in terms of causes, consequences, prevention, and treatment of selected types of child abuse and neglect. Inconsistencies in definitions often preclude comparative analyses of clinical studies. For example, studies of sexual abuse have indicated wide variations in its prevalence, often as a result of differences in the types of behavior that might be included in the definition adopted by each research investigator. Emotional abuse is also a matter of controversy in some quarters, primarily because of broad variations in its definition.
Research on child maltreatment is also complicated by the fragmentation of services and responses by which our society addresses specific reports of child maltreatment. Cases may involve children who are victims or witnesses to single or repeated incidents of child abuse and neglect. Sadly, child maltreatment often involves various family members, relatives, or other individuals who reside in the homes or neighborhoods of the affected children. Adult figures may be perpetrators of offensive incidents or mediators in intervention or prevention efforts.
The importance of the social ecological framework of the child has only recently been recognized in studies of maltreatment. Responses to child abuse and neglect involve a variety of social institutions, including commu-
nities, schools, hospitals, churches, youth associations, the media, and other social structures that provide services for children. Such groups and organizations present special intervention opportunities to reduce the scale and scope of the problem of child maltreatment, but their activities are often poorly documented and uncoordinated. Finally, governmental offices at the local, state, and federal levels have legal and social obligations to develop programs and resources to address child maltreatment, and their role is critical in developing a research agenda for this field.
In the past, the research agenda has been determined predominantly by pragmatic needs in the development and delivery of treatment and prevention services rather than by theoretical paradigms, a process that facilitates short-term studies of specialized research priorities but impedes the development of a well-organized, coherent body of scientific knowledge that can contribute over time to understanding fundamental principles and issues. As a result, the research in this field has been generally viewed by the scientific community as fragmented, diffuse, decentralized, and of poor quality.
Selection of Research Studies
The research literature in the field of child maltreatment is immenseover 2000 items are included in the panel's research bibliography, a portion of which is referenced in this report. Despite this quantity of literature, researchers generally agree that the quality of research on child maltreatment is relatively weak in comparison to health and social science research studies in areas such as family systems and child development. Only a few prospective studies of child maltreatment have been undertaken, and most studies rely on the use of clinical samples (which may exclude important segments of the research population) or adult memories. Both types of samples are problematic and can produce biased results. Clinical samples may not be representative of all cases of child maltreatment. For example, we know from epidemiologic studies of disease of cases that were derived from hospital records that, unless the phenomenon of interest always comes to a service provider for treatment, there exist undetected and untreated cases in the general population that are often quite different from those who have sought treatment. Similarly, when studies rely on adult memories of childhood experiences, recall bias is always an issue. Longitudinal studies are quite rare, and some studies that are described as longitudinal actually consist of hybrid designs followed over time.
To ensure some measure of quality, the panel relied largely on studies that had been published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. More rigorous scientific criteria (such as the use of appropriate theory and methodology in the conduct of the study) were considered by the panel, but were not adopted because little of the existing work would meet such selection
criteria. Given the early stage of development of this field of research, the panel believes that even weak studies contain some useful information, especially when they suggest clinical insights, a new perspective, or a point of departure from commonly held assumptions. Thus, the report draws out issues based on clinical studies or studies that lack sufficient control samples, but the panel refrains from drawing inferences based on this literature.
The panel believes that future research reviews of the child maltreatment literature would benefit from the identification of explicit criteria that could guide the selection of exemplary research studies, such as the following:
The extent to which the study is guided by theory regarding the origins and pathways of child abuse and neglect;
The use of appropriate and replicable instrumentation (including outcome measures) in the conduct of the study; and
The selection of appropriate study samples, including the use of experimental and control groups in etiological studies or in the analysis of outcomes of child maltreatment or intervention efforts.
For the most part, only a few studies will score well in each of the above categories. It becomes problematic, therefore, to rate the value of studies which may score high in one category but not in others.
The panel has relied primarily on studies conducted in the past decade, since earlier research work may not meet contemporary standards of methodological rigor. However, citations to earlier studies are included in this report where they are thought to be particularly useful and when research investigators provided careful assessments and analysis of issues such as definition, interrelationships of various types of abuse, and the social context of child maltreatment.
A Comparison With Other Fields of Family and Child Research
A comparison with the field of studies on family functioning may illustrate another point about the status of the studies on child maltreatment. The literature on normal family functioning or socialization effects differs in many respects from the literature on child abuse and neglect. Family sociology research has a coherent body of literature and reasonable consensus about what constitutes high-quality parenting in middle-class, predominantly White populations. Family functioning studies have focused predominantly on large, nonclinical populations, exploring styles of parenting and parenting practices that generate different kinds and levels of competence, mental health, and character in children. Studies of family functioning have tended to follow cohorts of subjects over long periods to identify the effects of variations in childrearing practices and patterns on children's
competence and adjustment that are not a function of social class and circumstances.
By contrast, the vast and burgeoning literature on child abuse and neglect is applied research concerned largely with the adverse effects of personal and social pathology on children. The research is often derived from very small samples selected by clinicians and case workers. Research is generally cross-sectional, and almost without exception the samples use impoverished families characterized by multiple problems, including substance abuse, unemployment, transient housing, and so forth. Until recently, researchers demonstrated little regard for incorporating appropriate ethnic and cultural variables in comparison and control groups. In the past decade, significant improvements have occurred in the development of child maltreatment research, but key problems remain in the area of definitions, study designs, and the use of instrumentation.
As the nature of research on child abuse and neglect has evolved over time, scientists and practitioners have likewise changed. The psychopathologic model of child maltreatment has been expanded to include models that stress the interactions of individual, family, neighborhood, and larger social systems. The role of ethnic and cultural issues are acquiring an emerging importance in formulating parent-child and family-community relationships. Earlier simplistic conceptionalizations of perpetrator-victim relationships are evolving into multiple-focus research projects that examine antecedents in family histories, current situational relationships, ecological and neighborhood issues, and interactional qualities of relationships between parent-child and offender-victim. In addition, emphases in treatment, social service, and legal programs combine aspects of both law enforcement and therapy, reflecting an international trend away from punishment, toward assistance, for families in trouble.
Charge To The Panel
The commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requested that the National Academy of Sciences convene a study panel to undertake a comprehensive examination of the theoretical and pragmatic research needs in the area of child maltreatment. The Panel on Research on Child Abuse and Neglect was asked specifically to:
Review and assess research on child abuse and neglect, encompassing work funded by the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families and other known sources under public and private auspices;
Identify research that provides knowledge relevant to the field; and
Recommend research priorities for the next decade, including new
areas of research that should be funded by public and private agencies and suggestions regarding fields that are no longer a priority for funding.
The report resulting from this study provides recommendations for allocating existing research funds and also suggests funding mechanisms and topic areas to which new resources could be allocated or enhanced resources could be redirected. By focusing this report on research priorities and the needs of the research community, the panel's efforts were distinguished from related activities, such as the reports of the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect, which concentrate on the policy issues in the field of child maltreatment.
The request for recommendations for research priorities recognizes that existing studies on child maltreatment require careful evaluation to improve the evolution of the field and to build appropriate levels of human and financial resources for these complex research problems. Through this review, the panel has examined the strengths and weaknesses of past research and identified areas of knowledge that represent the greatest promise for advancing understanding of, and dealing more effectively with, the problem of child maltreatment.
In conducting this review, the panel has recognized the special status of studies of child maltreatment. The experience of child abuse or neglect from any perspective, including victim, perpetrator, professional, or witness, elicits strong emotions that may distort the design, interpretation, or support of empirical studies. The role of the media in dramatizing selected cases of child maltreatment has increased public awareness, but it has also produced a climate in which scientific objectivity may be sacrificed in the name of urgency or humane service. Many concerned citizens, legislators, child advocates, and others think we already know enough to address the root causes of child maltreatment. Critical evaluations of treatment and prevention services are not supported due to both a lack of funding and a lack of appreciation for the role that scientific analysis can play in improving the quality of existing services and identifying new opportunities for interventions. The existing research base is small in volume and spread over a wide variety of topics. The contrast between the importance of the problem and the difficulty of approaching it has encouraged the panel to proceed carefully, thoroughly distinguishing suppositions from facts when they appear.
Research on child maltreatment is at a crossroadswe are now in a position to merge this research field with others to incorporate multiple perspectives, broaden research samples, and focus on fundamental issues that have the potential to strengthen, reform, or replace existing public policy and social programs. We have arrived at a point where we can
recognize the complex interplay of forces in the origins and consequences of child abuse and neglect. We also recognize the limitations of our knowledge about the effects of different forms of social interventions (e.g., home visitations, foster care, family treatment programs) for changing the developmental pathways of abuse victims and their families.
The Importance Of A Child-Oriented Framework
The field of child maltreatment studies has often divided research into the types of child maltreatment under consideration (such as physical and sexual abuse, child neglect, and emotional maltreatment). Within each category, researchers and practitioners have examined underlying causes or etiology, consequences, forms of treatment or other interventions, and prevention programs. Each category has developed its own typology and framework of reference terms, and researchers within each category often publish in separate journals and attend separate professional meetings.
Over a decade ago, the National Research Council Committee on Child Development Research and Public Policy published a report titled Services for Children: An Agenda for Research (1981). Commenting on the development of various government services for children, the report noted that observations of children's needs were increasingly distorted by the "unmanageably complex, expensive, and confusing" categorical service structure that had produced fragmented and sometimes contradictory programs to address child health and nutrition requirements (p. 15-16). The committee concluded that the actual experiences of children and their families in different segments of society and the conditions of their homes, neighborhoods, and communities needed more systematic study. The report further noted that we need to learn more about who are the important people in children's lives, including parents, siblings, extended family, friends, and caretakers outside the family, and what these people do for children, when, and where.
These same conclusions can be applied to studies of child maltreatment. Our panel considered, but did not endorse, a framework that would emphasize differences in the categories of child abuse or neglect. We also considered a framework that would highlight differences in the current system of detecting, investigating, or responding to child maltreatment. In contrast to conceptualizing this report in terms of categories of maltreatment or responses of the social system to child maltreatment, the panel presents a child-oriented research agenda that emphasizes the importance of knowing more about the backgrounds and experiences of developing children and their families, within a broader social context that includes their friends, neighborhoods, and communities. This framework stresses the importance of knowing more about the qualitative differences between children who suffer episodic experiences of abuse or neglect and those for whom mal-
treatment is a chronic part of their lives. And this approach highlights the need to know more about circumstances that affect the consequences, and therefore the treatment, of child maltreatment, especially circumstances that may be affected by family, cultural, or ethnic factors that often remain hidden in small, isolated studies.
An Ecological Developmental Perspective
The panel has adopted an ecological developmental perspective to examine factors in the child, family, or society that can exacerbate or mitigate the incidence and destructive consequences of child maltreatment. In the panel's view, this perspective reflects the understanding that development is a process involving transactions between the growing child and the social environment or ecology in which development takes place. Positive and negative factors merit attention in shaping a research agenda on child maltreatment. We have adopted a perspective that recognizes that dysfunctional families are often part of a dysfunctional environment.
The relevance of child maltreatment research to child development studies and other research fields is only now being examined. New methodologies and new theories of child maltreatment that incorporate a developmental perspective can provide opportunities for researchers to consider the interaction of multiple factors, rather than focusing on single causes or short-term effects. What is required is the mobilization of new structures of support and resources to concentrate research efforts on significant areas that offer the greatest promise of improving our understanding of, and our responses to, child abuse and neglect.
Our report extends beyond what is, to what could be, in a society that fosters healthy development in children and families. We cannot simply build a research agenda for the existing social system; we need to develop one that independently challenges the system to adapt to new perspectives, new insights, and new discoveries.
The fundamental theme of the report is the recognition that research efforts to address child maltreatment should be enhanced and incorporated into a long-term plan to improve the quality of children's lives and the lives of their families. By placing maltreatment within the framework of healthy development, for example, we can identify unique sources of intervention for infants, preschool children, school-age children, and adolescents.
Each stage of development presents challenges that must be resolved in order for a child to achieve productive forms of thinking, perceiving, and behaving as an adult. The special needs of a newborn infant significantly differ from those of a toddler or preschool child. Children in the early years of elementary school have different skills and distinct experiential levels from those of preadolescent years. Adolescent boys and girls demon-
strate a range of awkward and exploratory behaviors as they acquire basic social skills necessary to move forward into adult life. Most important, developmental research has identified the significant influences of family, schools, peers, neighborhoods, and the broader society in supporting or constricting child development.
Understanding the phenomenon of child abuse and neglect within a developmental perspective poses special challenges. As noted earlier, research literature on child abuse and neglect is generally organized by the category or type of maltreatment; integrated efforts have not yet been achieved. For example, research has not yet compared and contrasted the causes of physical and sexual abuse of a preschool child or the differences between emotional maltreatment of toddlers and adolescents, although all these examples fall within the domain of child maltreatment. A broader conceptual framework for research will elicit data that can facilitate such comparative analyses.
By placing research in the framework of factors that foster healthy development, the ecological developmental perspective can enhance understanding of the research agenda for child abuse and neglect. The developmental perspective can improve the quality of treatment and prevention programs, which often focus on particular groups, such as young mothers who demonstrate risk factors for abuse of newborns, or sexual offenders who molest children. There has been little effort to cut across the categorical lines established within these studies to understand points of convergence or divergence in studies on child abuse and neglect.
The ecological developmental perspective can also improve our understanding of the consequences of child abuse and neglect, which may occur with increased or diminished intensity over a developmental cycle, or in different settings such as the family or the school. Initial effects may be easily identified and addressed if the abuse is detected early in the child's development, and medical and psychological services are available for the victim and the family. Undetected incidents, or childhood experiences discovered later in adult life, require different forms of treatment and intervention. In many cases, incidents of abuse and neglect may go undetected and unreported, yet the child victim may display aggression, delinquency, substance addiction, or other problem behaviors that stimulate responses within the social system.
Finally, an ecological developmental perspective can enhance intervention and prevention programs by identifying different requirements and potential effects for different age groups. Children at separate stages of their developmental cycle have special coping mechanisms that present barriers toand opportunities forthe treatment and prevention of child abuse and neglect. Intervention programs need to consider the extent to which children may have already experienced some form of maltreatment in order to
evaluate successful outcomes. In addition, the perspective facilitates evaluation of which settings are the most promising locus for interventions.
A series of national reports associated with the health and welfare of children have been published in the past decade, many of which have identified the issue of child abuse and neglect as one that deserves sustained attention and creative programmatic solutions. In their 1991 report, Beyond Rhetoric, the National Commission on Children noted that the fragmentation of social services has resulted in the nation's children being served on the basis of their most obvious condition or problem rather than being served on the basis of multiple needs. Although the needs of these children are often the same and are often broader than the mission of any single agency emotionally disturbed children are often served by the mental health system, delinquent children by the juvenile justice system, and abused or neglected children by the protective services system (National Commission on Children, 1991). In their report, the commission called for the protection of abused and neglected children through more comprehensive child protective services, with a strong emphasis on efforts to keep children with their families or to provide permanent placement for those removed from their homes.
In setting health goals for the year 2000, the Public Health Service recognized the problem of child maltreatment and recommended improvements in reporting and diagnostic services, and prevention and educational interventions (U.S. Public Health Service, 1990). For example, the report, Health People 2000, described the four types of child maltreatment and recommended that the rising incidence (identified as 25.2 per 1,000 in 1986) should be reversed to less than 25.2 in the year 2000. These public health targets are stated as reversing increasing trends rather than achieving specific reductions because of difficulties in obtaining valid and reliable measures of child maltreatment. The report also included recommendations to expand the implementation of state level review systems for unexplained child deaths, and to increase the number of states in which at least 50 percent of children who are victims of physical or sexual abuse receive appropriate treatment and follow-up evaluations as a means of breaking the intergenerational cycle of abuse.
The U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect issued reports in 1990 and 1991 which include national policy and research recommendations. The 1991 report presented a range of research options for action, highlighting the following priorities (U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1991:110-113):
To increase general knowledge about the causes, precipitants, consequences, prevention, and treatment of child abuse and neglect;
To increase knowledge about the child protection system;
To increase specific knowledge about the social and cultural factors related to child maltreatment;
To increase human resources in the field of research on child abuse and neglect;
To ensure that procedures for stimulation and analysis of research on child abuse and neglect are scientifically credible;
To facilitate the planning of research; and
To reduce obstacles to the generation of knowledge about child abuse and neglect.
This report differs from those described above because its primary focus is on establishing a research agenda for the field of studies on child abuse and neglect. In contrast to the mandate of the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect, the panel was not asked to prepare policy recommendations for federal and state governments in developing child maltreatment legislation and programs. The panel is clearly aware of the need for services for abused and neglected children and of the difficult policy issues that must be considered by the Congress, the federal government, the states, and municipal governments in responding to the distress of children and families in crisis. The charge to this panel was to design a research agenda that would foster the development of scientific knowledge that would provide fundamental insights into the causes, identification, incidence, consequences, treatment, and prevention of child maltreatment. This knowledge can enable public and private officials to execute their responsibilities more effectively, more equitably, and more compassionately and empower families and communities to resolve their problems and conflicts in a manner that strengthens their internal resources and reduces the need for external interventions.
Early studies on child abuse and neglect evolved from a medical or pathogenic model, and research focused on specific contributing factors or causal sources within the individual offender to be discovered, addressed, and prevented. With the development of research on child maltreatment over the past several decades, however, the complexity of the phenomena encompassed by the terms child abuse and neglect or child maltreatment has become apparent. Clinical studies that began with small sample sizes and weak methodological designs have gradually evolved into larger and longer-term projects with hundreds of research subjects and sound instrumentation.
Although the pathogenic model remains popular among the general public in explaining the sources of child maltreatment, it is limited by its primary focus on risk and protective factors within the individual. Research investigators now recognize that individual behaviors are often influenced by factors in the family, community, and society as a whole. Elements from these systems are now being integrated into more complex theories that analyze the roles of interacting risk and protective factors to explain and understand the phenomena associated with child maltreatment.
In the past, research on child abuse and neglect has developed within a categorical framework that classifies the research by the type of maltreatment typically as reported in administrative records. Although the quality of research within different categories of child abuse and neglect is uneven and problems of definitions, data collection, and study design continue to characterize much research in this field, the panel concluded that enough progress has been achieved to integrate the four categories of maltreatment into a child-oriented framework that could analyze the similarities and differences of research findings. Rather than encouraging the continuation of a categorical approach that would separate research on physical or sexual abuse, for example, the panel sought to develop for research sponsors and the research community a set of priorities that would foster the integration of scientific findings, encourage the development of comparative analyses, and also distinguish key research themes in such areas as identification, incidence, etiology, prevention, consequences, and treatment. This approach recognizes the need for the construction of collaborative, long-term efforts between public and private research sponsors and research investigators to strengthen the knowledge base, to integrate studies that have evolved for different types of child maltreatment, and eventually to reduce the problem of child maltreatment. This approach also highlights the connections that need to be made between research on the causes and the prevention of child maltreatment, for the more we learn about the origins of child abuse and neglect, the more effective we can be in seeking to prevent it. In the same manner, the report emphasises the connections that need to be made between research on the consequences and treatment of child maltreatment, for knowledge about the effects of child abuse and neglect can guide the development of interventions to address these effects.
In constructing this report, the panel has considered eight broad areas:
Identification and definitions of child abuse and neglect (Chapter 2)
Incidence: The scope of the problem (Chapter 3)
Etiology of child maltreatment (Chapter 4)
Prevention of child maltreatment (Chapter 5)
Consequences of child maltreatment (Chapter 6)
Treatment of child maltreatment (Chapter 7)
Human resources, instrumentation, and research infrastructure (Chapter 8)
Ethical and legal issue in child maltreatment research (Chapter 9)
Each chapter includes key research recommendations within the topic under review. The final chapter of the report (Chapter 10) establishes a framework of research priorities derived by the panel from these recommendations. The four main categories identified within this frameworkresearch on the nature and scope of child maltreatment; research on the origins and consequences of child maltreatment; research on the strengths and limitations of existing interventions; and the need for a science policy for child maltreatment researchprovide the priorities that the panel has selected as the most important to address in the decade ahead.
1. The panel received an anecdotal report, for example, that one federal research agency systematically changed titles of its research awards over a decade ago, replacing phrases such as child abuse with references to maternal and child health care, after political sensitivities developed regarding the appropriateness of its research program in this area.
1992 Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism. New York: Basic Books.
Children's Defense Fund
1991 The State of America's Children. Washington, DC: The Children's Defense Fund.
1988 Confronting Child Abuse: Research for Effective Program Design. New York: The Free Press, Macmillan. Cited in the General Accounting Office, 1992. Child Abuse: Prevention Programs Need Greater Emphasis. GAO/HRD-92-99.
Daro, D., and K. McCurdy
1991 Current Trends in Child Abuse Reporting and Fatalities: The Results of the 1990 Annual Fifty State Survey. Chicago: National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse.
Fuchs, V.R., and D.M. Reklis
1992 America's children: Economic perspectives and policy options. Science 255:41-46.
General Accounting Office
1991 Child Abuse Prevention: Status of the Challenge Grant Program. May. GAO:HRD91-95. Washington, DC.
Huston, A.C., ed.
1991 Children in Poverty: Child Development and Public Policy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Kempe, C.H., F.N. Silverman, B. Steele, W. Droegemueller, and H.R. Silver
1962 The battered child syndrome. Journal of the American Medical Association 181(1): 17-24.
McClain, P.W., J.J. Sacks, R.G. Froehlke, and B.G. Ewigman
1993 Estimates of fatal child abuse and neglect, United States, 1979 through 1988. Pediatrics 91(2):338-343.
National Commission on Children
1991 Beyond Rhetoric: A New American Agenda for Children and Families. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
National Research Council
1981 Services for Children: An Agenda for Research. Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect
1990 Child Abuse and Neglect: Critical First Steps in Response to a National Emergency. August. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. August.
1991 Creating Caring Communities. September. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
U.S. Public Health Service
1990 Violent and abusive behavior. Pp. 226-247 (Chapter 7) in Healthy People 2000 Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.