child abuse

(redirected from battered child syndrome)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Legal, Acronyms, Wikipedia.
Related to battered child syndrome: osteogenesis imperfecta, Munchausen syndrome

child abuse,

physical, sexual, or emotional maltreatment or neglect of children by parents, guardians, or others responsible for a child's welfare. Physical abuse is characterized by physical injury, usually inflicted as a result of a beating or inappropriately harsh discipline. Sexual abuse includes molestation, incest, rape, prostitution, or use of a child for pornographic purposes. Neglect can be physical in nature (abandonment, failure to seek needed health care), educational (failure to see that a child is attending school), or emotional (abuse of a spouse or another child in the child's presence, allowing a child to witness adult substance abuse). Inappropriate punishment, verbal abuse, and scapegoating are also forms of emotional or psychological child abuse. Some authorities consider parental actions abusive if they have negative future consequences, e.g., exposure of a child to violence or harmful substances, extending in some views to the passive inhalation of cigarette smoke (see smokingsmoking,
inhalation and exhalation of the fumes of burning tobacco in cigars and cigarettes and pipes; in the 21st cent., vaping, the similar use of e-cigarettes, also has become common. Some persons draw the smoke into their lungs; others do not.
..... Click the link for more information.

In practice, there are borderline areas where what constitutes child abuse is not clear. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled (1944) that parents do not have an absolute right to deny life-saving medical treatment to their children, but devout members of the Church of Christ, Scientist, and other churches believe in the healing power of prayer and do not always seek medical help. Most U.S. states, however, permit parents to use religious beliefs as a defense against prosecution for the withholding of medical treatment from their sick children, even in cases where the lack of treatment results in a child's death.

Causes and Effects

There are many interacting causes of child abuse and neglect. Characteristics or circumstances of the abuser, the child, and the family may all contribute. In many cases the abuser was abused as a child. Substance abuse (see drug addiction and drug abusedrug addiction and drug abuse,
chronic or habitual use of any chemical substance to alter states of body or mind for other than medically warranted purposes. Traditional definitions of addiction, with their criteria of physical dependence and withdrawal (and often an underlying
..... Click the link for more information.
) has been identified as a key factor in a growing number of cases. In some cases abusers do not have the education and skills needed to raise a child, thus increasing the likelihood of abuse, and providing inadequate parental role models for future generations. Children who are ill, disabled, or otherwise perceived as different are more likely to be the targets of abuse. In the family, marital discord, domestic violence, unemployment and poverty, and social isolation are all factors that can precipitate abuse.

Patterns of abusive behavior may result in the physical or mental impairment of the child or even death. Small children are especially vulnerable to physical injury such as whiplash or shaken infant syndrome resulting from battery. Abused children are more likely to experience generalized anxiety, depression, truancy, shame and guilt, or suicidal and homicidal thoughts or to engage in criminal activity, promiscuity, and substance abuse.

Intervention in Child Abuse Cases

In the United States, New York became the first state to institute child protection laws (1875) that made abuse against children a crime, and other states soon followed with similar laws. In 1974 the U.S. Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, which encouraged remaining states to pass child protection laws and created the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. In addition, all states have their own reporting laws, juvenile and family court laws, and criminal laws.

Cases of child abuse are handled by an multidisciplinary team including medical personnel, law enforcement officers, the schools, social workers, and the courts. School personnel may be the first to notice and report signs of abuse. Child-abuse cases are often coordinated by a community's child protective services unit, which sends case workers to the home for evaluation and offers services to the child and family. Medical professionals may report cases, provide treatment for injured children, provide testimony in court, or help to educate parents. Law enforcement personnel may be involved when cases are reported or when there is a question of a criminal action. The courts provide emergency protective orders or decide whether the child should be removed from the home. Child abuse may be punished by incarceration of the perpetrator or by the denial of custody rights to abusive parents or guardians.


Despite efforts to reduce child abuse in America, more than a million children are physically abused each year; about 2,000 die. Although the magnitude of sexual abuse of children in the United States is unknown, it is considered to be an escalating problem, and one that can result in serious psychological damage among victims. There are no reliable statistics available for emotional abuse and neglect, but these types of child abuse are as potentially damaging to their victims as are various forms of physical abuse. Child abuse extends across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines, but there are consistently more reports concerning children born into poverty. The reporting of child abuse is complicated by the private nature of the crime, the fearfulness of the child, and strong motivation for denial in the abuser.


See J. Goldstein, A. Freud, A. J. Solnit, and S. Goldstein, In the Best Interests of the Child (1986); J. Garbarino, E. Guttmann, and J. W. Seeley, The Psychologically Battered Child (1987); D. E. H. Russell, The Secret Trauma: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women (1986); R. E. Helfer and R. S. Kempe, The Battered Child (4th ed. 1987); D. J. Besharov, Recognizing Child Abuse: A Guide for the Concerned (1990); publications of the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

child abuse

the inflicting of injury or psychological damage on a minor through assault, sexual exploitation or emotional harm. The awareness of child abuse internationally has developed very unevenly. Even in societies where concern is widespread, services for the investigation and amelioration of abuse are often under-resourced.

Research has been undertaken principally by psychologists and those associated with the SOCIAL WORK services to children and their families. Attempts at explanation have focused upon indices of deprivation, the faulty SOCIALIZATION of carers, and, more recently, and especially in relation to sexual abuse, male power.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
References in periodicals archive ?
Using battered child syndrome as a justification contradicts the basic theory of self defense.
Although courts have frequently permitted evidence of battered child syndrome to prove the intent to commit child abuse, courts rarely allow use of the syndrome as a defense to prove justification.
expert testimony on battered child syndrome may help to explain a phenomenon not within the understanding of an ordinary lay person." (161) Of course, the admissibility of other syndromes is an ongoing debate.
For example, one researcher has suggested that "[t]he defense of battered child syndrome would still be reserved for only those cases where there is clear evidence that the defendant acted out of desperation and had no other choice." (172) However, deciding ex ante which cases have clear evidence of desperation is an all-but-impossible task for a court unless it has a comprehensible definition of BCS to follow.
Kempe's work is important historically for its call to doctors, who had long known about child battering but discussed it only in whispers, to recognize abuse officially, and the resulting legislative activity that, by 1967, achieved mandated reporting laws in all fifty states.(158) Modern child abuse discourse could not remain bound to Kempe's "battered child syndrome" for long, and progressive narratives would eventually credit the expansion from Kempe's medicalized physical cruelty as an appropriate evolution toward a better understanding of the deeper, larger problem of child abuse.
Emotional abuse would still be crucial to the nascent "child abuse." It is not simply that the old "neglect" reorganized as "child abuse" and overtook Kempe's "battered child syndrome." Legal regulations of the sexuality of children and the uses of physical force in child rearing were the necessary conditions in which power worked productively, and a new problem was born: No longer were there two distinct questions of sexual taboo and excessive corporal punishment; the two became joined as two specific manifestations of one superordinate question, the problem of child abuse.
Generally, when currently mentioned, battered child syndrome refers to the psychological effects of child abuse on the child's "emotions, perceptions, and behavior."(88) There is neither a set definition nor are there clear phases, as in battered woman syndrome, largely because "although there is a huge body of research on the psychological characteristics of children who are abused, that information has not been processed and articulated in the form of a psychological syndrome."(89) There are, however, great similarities between abused children and abused women.
The admissibility of expert testimony concerning battered child syndrome historically has encountered much resistance.(102) The resistance is due not only to the fact that battered child syndrome is a new area with no official recognition as a psychological syndrome, but also because those jurisdictions that do not accept battered woman syndrome, with all of its psychological evidence, likely will reject battered child syndrome for the same reason.(103) Furthermore, those jurisdictions that accept battered woman syndrome may hesitate to further expand nontraditional excuses.
Admissibility of expert testimony aside, acquittals and hung juries are consistently less likely in cases of battered child syndrome than in cases involving battered woman syndrome.(106) The child often is convicted of murder, or, less frequently, of manslaughter.(107) Imperfect self-defense again appears to be the ideal compromise.(108)