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Rated: E · Preface · Experience · #1603550
The story of me and therapy . . . and surviving Munchausen by Proxy . . . .
Here is a little history on child abuse and child reform.  There is overwhelming evidence that throughout history, children have been incredibly abused with little recourse to the law.  This can be traced as far back as ancient Roman law where children were regarding as property.  The power of the father under Roman law was absolute: he could kill, sell, or offer his child for sacrifice without consequence.  This social acceptance of parental power being absolute was prevalent in Roman society as well as most other existing cultures.  In many ways, the movement toward Christianity only affirmed and strengthened this attitude. Interpretations of the Bible that children were products of original sin that could be molded into virtuous adults heavily influenced a father’s right to discipline however he chose fit.  Other attitudes such as “A man’s home is his castle” continued to empower the acceptance of a divine parental right to control their children at any cost.  Children have always been abused not only with little recourse to the law, but also to the familial and societal witnesses that shamefully turned away.

The first case of child abuse ever reported in the United States occurred in 1874. The incident was reported by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).  The case was tried under the animal protection laws of New York State with the founder of the SPCA, Henry Bergh, serving as a ‘humane citizen’ in the child’s behalf.  The abusive parent was found guilty of assault and battery and the child removed from the parent’s custody.  The complete absence of child protection laws at both the state and federal levels only enforced the societal blindness to the occurrence of child abuse.  The case, however, did stir up the private sector, and in 1875, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (SPCC) was founded.  The SPCC became the driving force behind reforms on behalf of children.  By 1877, The American Humane Association (AHA) was formed and set up national headquarters in Denver, Colorado.  By 1900, the AHA was comprised of 150 anti-cruelty organizations, and though the majority of them dealt with both animal and children’s rights, it was a start.  The lack of state and federal laws prevailed, but the children’s movement had taken its first steps.

Private organizations aimed at child reform continued to struggle with factors that inevitably shadowed their cause.  The start of World War I deflected attention away from the children’s movement, and the Depression significantly cut out the financial contributions necessary to keep the movement moving forward.  Anti-cruelty societies, frustrated with the dual task of protecting animals and children, began to put the pressure on state and federal officials to push for child reform.  State officials eventually yielded to this pressure and, in many states, abuse legislation was passed and child welfare services  formed.  Finally, the federal government stepped up to the plate with a mandate in the 1930 Social Security Act requiring states to provide child welfare services to “neglected, dependent children and children in danger of becoming delinquent.”  The American Humane Society’s children’s division became the National Association of Child Protective Services (CPS). The federal government still failed to draft any legislation that acknowledged the actual prevalence of child abuse, its societal impact, or that its occurrence was , indeed, a violation of civil rights.

Private social service organizations and CPS officials clashed in their approaches to child abuse.  Social services viewed Child Protective Services as being too similar to law enforcement.  Social workers demanded that it was more beneficial to rescue the home for the child by providing services to transform bad parenting into good parenting.  CPS viewed child abuse or neglect as a violation of the law and their approach was to rescue the child from the home and prosecute the parent(s). The lack of clear objectives, superior authority involvement, and the failure to take a multidisciplinary approach plunged the children’s movement into another period of stagnation that lasted almost two decades.

Breakthroughs in medical technology, particularly radiology, revived the children’s movement and placed child abuse back under the spotlight.  In July, 1962, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article entitled “Battered- Child Syndrome.”  The article presented radiologic findings on the incidence of child abuse based on a survey of nationwide hospitals.  These findings included injuries that were in the process of healing as well as old injuries that had healed abnormally.  The article discussed the characteristics of abusive parents as well as the reluctance of pediatricians to get involved.  Once again, anti-cruelty groups turned up the pressure on our government to draft child abuse laws.  By 1963, 18 bills to protect abused children went before Congress; eleven of them were passed the same year.  By 1967, all states, including Hawaii and Washington, DC, had passed child abuse reporting laws.  In March and April of 1973, Senate hearings took place on the Child Abuse Prevention Act, and in 1974, the Act became law.  It took a century for our federal government to acknowledge the existence as well as impact of child abuse and declare its incidence a punishable offense.

I must continually remind myself that the reforms in children’s rights and protective services are still in the early stages.  Child abuse was not even a crime until 1974, and with such a high incidence, it will always be impossible to reach every victim.  The systems and agencies that have been put into place to address the issue are, in my opinion, predisposed to a certain level of failure simply by design.  There are too many varying attitudes in approach methods, limiting the ability of leaders to define objectives that are actually operational.  The added political pressure by special interest groups, and the yearning for public support by officials, places children’s agencies in danger of fall prey to an incremental style of decision-making rather than one that first examines all of the possible means and ends.  In a nutshell, the children’s movement has a long way to go, but even the small steps that have been taken do amount to some degree of progress.  Believing this gives me hope that the quality of life for the innocent and undeserving will continue to improve, no matter how slow.

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