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Researched Dissertation on emotional and psychological abuse of children. Incomplete
Prove It

Difficulties with Identification and evidence arise for Social Workers who are faced with the emotional and Psychological abuse of children.





Chapter 1: Definitions of Abuse

Chapter 2: Social Considerations

Chapter 3: Values and Judgements

Chapter 4: Evidence and the Court

Chapter 5: Case Examples

Chapter 6: Implications for Social Work Practice

Evaluation of Research and Personal Learning





The aim of this dissertation is to find out whether the category of EMOTIONAL ABUSE as outlined in 'Working together Under The Children Act 1989: (A guide to arrangements for Interagency co operation for the protection of children from abuse') is a useful and adequate category for defining this manner of abuse, or whether the category in general is contentious and therefore avoided. If the category can be shown as difficult to use then what are the possible reasons for this and what are the implications for Social Work practice with particular refence to child protection.

my initial reason for tackling this particular area was that it had appeared to me that there was a certain reluctance on the part of individual social workers to look at whether there was any sign of emotional &/or psychological abuse being suffered by individual children, (case examples will be given later in order to highlight this particular point).

During my research I have found that the area of emotional and psychological abuse of children is not nearly such a popular area of study as the other categories of abuse, i.e. neglect, physical and sexual abuse. There does however appear to be a growing interest in the importance of emotional abuse and I have discovered that there have been a few studies carried out in an attempt to explain and define this in order for the practitioner to become more knowledgeable.

The findings, dicussed in evaluation, show that difficulties do arise for workers in relation to personal views, outside influences such as social policy and attitudes and the legal system.


Fo rht edissertation I shall be using secondary research. I had contemplated using some primary research but lacked confidence, not to mention the time to carry this out effectively. I was also concerned about how accurate I could be with 1st hand research as I am new to this particular topic and felt that I could not be sure of devising adequate questions that would enable me to build an argument around the hypothesis.

Thereforwe i have chosen to use relevant material taken from text books, research papers, articles, journals, newspapers and topical television programmes. Much of the information I gained from utilising the 'Care Data' system at Havering College. I also visited the Tavistock (N.I.S.W.) library where I located soem valuable information (particularly on Evidence) from journals. For the past two years I have been assembling material, which is pertinent to Social Work, from T.V. Programmes and newspaper reports; these I have found useful for demonstrative purposes and for emphasising current issues. The research will be largely qualitative in nature, mainly because I do not wish to discover how many sovcial workers do take emotional & psychological abuse into account, but wish to know how that potential abuse is perceived and acted upon in the work environment in general; the dissertation is 'exploratory' in nature (Herbert, 1992; pg 19) and is aimed at discussing the concepts connected to emotional abuse and raising awareness of the issues for the reader.


Emotional and Psychological abuse is an area that appears to need alot of clarity and definition. It will be important therefore to define not only what constitutes abuse, but what is meant by emotion and psychology. It is necessary then in chapter 1 to define these three things before I can attempt to determine how they are perceived. In chapter 2 an overview of the social considerations of child protection will be applied. This is important because I feel it puts the social attitudes towards children and their protection into context & may enable us to recognise where our knowledge base comes from.

In chapter 3 I will discuss values and judgements of social workers in relation to two pieces of research that suggest that social workers are able to correctly identify this type of abuse. I will also attempt to show that a social worker's 'fear of getting it wrong' also has a significant impact on the way she bears her duties.

One of the most difficult areas with regard to proof of harm & this being attributable to parental care is the requirement of evidence for the court, and how the court perceives children and the evidence in question, chapter 4 will deal with this particular area. Chapter 5 aims to demonstrate with case examples the dilemmas social workers face in establishing and identifying abuse. In the following section I aim to discuss the implications for social work practice of facinf the emotional and psychological harm of children. The purpose of the next section is to discuss my thoughts and feelings around carrying out a research project of this nature, and to evaluate my own learning; this will be followed by a general conclusion.


Section 31 of the Children Act 1989, which deals with the the care and supervision of children, lays out the legal definition of child abuse which is termed 'Significant Harm'. Section 31 (9) of the Act lays out the areas that significant harm cover, these being:

'"Harm" means ill treatment or the impairment of health or development;
"Development" means physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development;
"Health" means physical or mental health, and;
"Ill treatment" includes sexual abuse and forms of ill treatment which are not physical.' (Sec. 31(9): C.A. 1989).

There are also legal definitions of categories of child abuse which are specific to registration of a child on the protection register. For this assignment I am only concerned with the category of 'Emotional Abuse'. 'Working Together' states that Emotional Abuse is the:

"Actual or likely severe adverse effect on the emotional and behavioural development of a child caused by persistent or severe emotional ill-treatment or rejection. all abuse involves some emotional ill-treatment. this category should be used where it is the main or sole form of abuse." (H.M.S.O., 1991: pg49).

The difficulty with this definition however is that it does not explain either what emotional abuse is nor how the worker should regard the severity of an action. In addition, what is severe to one person amy not be to another, (F.R.G. & N.S.P.C.C., 1992; pg8). As well as this there is no mention of PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE. O'Hagan (1993) suggests that emotional and psychological abuse are two different things.

"Emotion is about feeling; 'psychological' pertains to the mind... The 'psychological' or mental life refers to the function and development of crucial mental processes and faculties. Theses include the child's developing moral sense as well as the more obvious process referred to as cognition." (pg22-3).

Again however there is no universal defintion of either of these two processes, and what may be regarded as a 'developing moral sense' in one culture may be very different in another, depending on the avlues placed on the the society in question, so:

"The fact that very few children tend to be registered in the emotional abuse category is due to the lack of precise and operational definitions. The globality and vaguness of criteria laid down (in Working Together') do not inspire confidence among child care and child protection workers. The fact that children are so seldom identified as vistims... should not... be taken to suggest that there is no significant problem." (Iwaniec, 1995; pg6).

Should we then, as individuals, be able to recognise when a child's emtonal development is being affected? attempting to answer this question is a 'proverbial minefield', because all sorts of things have to be taken into consideration. Such as; who are the people that define normal emotional behaviour? Where ahve they learnt what constitutes an emotion? These questions are vital in order to pick our way through the minefield without becoming wounded in the process. In attempting to define emotional abuse I first looked to the dictionary for a definition of emotion. The Concise Oxford Dictionary maintains that it is:

Disturbance of mind; mental sensation or state; instinctive feeling as opposed to reason." And that Emotional is:

"Of or relating to the emotions; expressing emotion; liable to excessive emotion" (Ed: Sykes, 1987; pg315).
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