Chapter Summary and Learning Objectives
- Describe the definition and scope of child psychological maltreatment, including problems inherent in measuring this form of abuse.
- Identify the various risk factors associated with child psychological maltreatment.
- Summarize the consequences of child psychological maltreatment, including both short- and long-term outcomes.
- Discuss the various intervention and prevention efforts that have been developed to address child psychological maltreatment, including evidence of their effectiveness.
Child psychological maltreatment is arguably the most elusive form of maltreatment and, as a result, has received the least amount of attention. The vague nature of this form of maltreatment is evident by the fact that a significant proportion of the research directed toward CPM focuses on definitional issues. At present, no single definition of CPM is universally accepted. Establishing the parameters of CPM has proved quite difficult and confusing. Researchers disagree about whether definitions should be broad or narrow and about the relative importance of parental behaviors versus child outcomes.
Given these definitional complexities, the true incidence of CPM is largely undetermined,
as are victim characteristics associated with this form of child maltreatment. Researchers have obtained much of their information about rates and correlates of psychological maltreatment from official reports made to CPS agencies. Although the quality of information available on this problem is limited, it is clear that many children
are reported as victims of CPM each year in the United States. CPM, however, is the least commonly reported form of child maltreatment, accounting for 6 percent to 28 percent of reported cases.
Research conducted to date indicates that reports of CPM increase as children become older. The research has shown no consistent gender differences among victims,
nor is there a clear pattern of racial differences. Studies have shown a link, however,
between CPM and low income. Most reported cases indicate that female parents are about twice as likely to be identified as the perpetrators of emotional neglect compared
to males, while males are more often reported as perpetrators of emotional abuse compared to females. Consistent findings have also been observed with regard to psychosocial variables in psychologically maltreating parents, who are characterized as exhibiting interpersonal and social difficulties, poor problem-solving skills, substance abuse, and psychiatric maladjustment. Additional research is needed, however, to replicate
current findings and expand understanding of risk factors associated with CPM.
Studies of the negative effects associated with CPM are limited in both number and quality, making interpretation of findings difficult. Research has, however, consistently
uncovered a variety of associated problems in victims, including social, emotional,
and behavioral difficulties and intellectual deficits. Many scholars believe that the negative effects of child CPM extend into adulthood, but more research is necessary
to establish the relationship between childhood histories of CPM and adjustment problems in adulthood.
Few intervention and prevention approaches have been developed to address the unique aspects of CPM, and research evaluating the effectiveness of such approaches is limited. Professionals in the field of child maltreatment should focus their future efforts on increasing public awareness and understanding of CPM to garner support and resources for efforts aimed at reducing the incidence and harmful effects associated
with this form of child maltreatment.