- » The Role of Professional Child Care Providers in Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse and Neglect
- » Caring for Maltreated and At-Risk Children
The Role of Professional Child Care Providers in Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse and Neglect
Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, Children's Bureau. Karageorge, Kathy, Kendall, Rosemary|
|Year Published: 2008|
Caring for Maltreated and At-Risk Children
Child care programs can be a refuge for children who are being abused or neglected at home. Providers can offer such children positive, safe experiences that also are developmentally appropriate. Just as child care providers help with the social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development of children, they can help maltreated children overcome fears, behavior problems, and other issues that may result from abuse or neglect. It is important that child care providers understand the kinds of developmental and emotional stress that maltreated children typically experience and learn what techniques are most effective for supporting these children.
Needs of Maltreated Children
The specific difficulties that a child care provider may see in a child who has been maltreated will vary depending upon the nature, the intensity, the duration, and the timing of the abuse or neglect, as well as the characteristics of the individual child. Some children will have obvious and profound problems, while other children may exhibit subtle behaviors. Many of the following characteristics may be indicative of child abuse or neglect, but they also may signal other problems unrelated to maltreatment. Regardless, they can be "red flags" that alert the provider to the child and family's needs for intervention or support:
- Developmental delays. Lack of consistent and enriching experiences in early childhood can result in delays in motor, language, social, and cognitive development.
- Eating behaviors. Odd eating behaviors (e.g., hoarding or hiding food) may occur, especially in children experiencing severe neglect.
- Soothing behaviors. Some children may use unusual soothing behaviors, such as head banging, rocking back and forth, scratching, or cutting themselves. These behaviors may increase during times of distress or threat.
- Emotional problems. A range of emotional problems is common in maltreated children and may include depression and anxiety. In addition, these children may become attached to adults very quickly, often due to a need to feel safe.
- Inappropriate modeling behaviors. Children may model adult behavior that is abusive or highly sexualized. They often learn that abusive behavior is the "right" way to interact with others.
- Aggression. Maltreated children may exhibit aggressive or cruel behaviors. Due to the abuse or neglect, they may lack empathy, impulse control, or the ability to understand the impact their behavior has on others.72
It is important that providers understand the effects of child abuse and neglect and their role during and after an investigation. In order to be effective in supporting the positive growth and development of the child and good parenting by the parent, providers should team with other helping professionals involved with the family. To assist the child and family effectively, all service providers should work together so that they deliver consistent messages and coordinated assistance. In this way, child care providers can do their part to help the child practice coping strategies successfully.73
Caregiving Skills and Techniques
Children generally are resilient, and some have the capacity to overcome the hurts and fears associated with maltreatment, regardless of the extent of the abuse or neglect. A positive relationship with a supportive adult, such as a child care provider, may enhance the resiliency of children who have been maltreated; are at risk for maltreatment; or live in a home where no maltreatment occurs, but the family experiences other problems, such as substance abuse or domestic violence. Some ways in which child care providers can help children who have been abused or neglected include:
- Nurturing these children. These children may need to be held, rocked, or cuddled in a nonthreatening and nonsexual way. For many of these children, being touched is associated with pain, torture, or other forms of abuse. Due to past negative associations with physical contact, it is very important to take their cues about being touched so that they are not uncomfortable.
- Trying to understand behaviors before imposing punishment or consequences. When neglected children hoard food, for example, it should not be viewed necessarily as stealing, but as a common result of being food-deprived. Punishment actually may increase the child's sense of insecurity and distress. Physically abused children may hit, kick, or bite, so the provider should be aware of noncorporal discipline alternatives.
- Caring for these children based on emotional age. Abused and neglected children often will be delayed emotionally and socially. These children may not be able "to act their age" because they are fearful or frustrated. Providers should care for these children based on their emotional age and needs and not on their chronological age.
- Modeling and teaching appropriate social behaviors. Many abused or neglected children do not know how to interact with other people. One of the best ways to teach them is to model positive behaviors, such as open communication, respect, and appropriate physical contact.
- Listening to and talking with these children. When a caregiver is gentle and consistent with an abused or neglected child, the child may begin to share feelings and to trust that caregiver.
- Taking care of oneself. Caring for maltreated children requires extra effort. Caregivers cannot provide the consistent, predictable, enriching, and nurturing care these children need if they are depleted physically and emotionally. They need to make sure they get rest and support.74
The National Association for the Education of Young Children developed guidelines for ways in which child care providers can help children deal with maltreatment. Although they cannot cure all of the hurts experienced by children, child care providers can make a difference by:
- Organizing their schedules and their time with children so that they can provide as much consistency as possible;
- Providing structure and clear expectations, which is particularly important for children who come from chaotic environments;
- Offering children many appropriate opportunities to express themselves (e.g., through play).75
It also is important that child care programs provide opportunities for children to develop meaningful relationships with caring and knowledgeable adults. These relationships can show a child that there are people in the world who can be of help. Physical and emotional availability are among the best caregiving qualities to offer children who have been maltreated or are at risk for maltreatment.
In order to provide high-quality child care, caregivers need professional training that will help them face the many challenges involved in caring for maltreated and at-risk children. Caregivers need:
In center-based programs, it is the responsibility of the director or the supervisor to implement a staff development plan that includes adequate training on caring for maltreated and at-risk children. Directors and family child care providers also can contact their local child protective services agency for information about training in their area. In addition, the Child Welfare Information Gateway website features child welfare workforce and training resources. The website has links to materials about curricula and other training materials for trainers, practitioners, and other professionals on topics such as prevention, family support, and mandatory reporting. This resource is available at http://www.childwelfare.gov/management/training/ and http://www.childwelfare.gov/management/workforce/.
Child Abuse Prevention: Personal Safety Programs for Children
One of the primary responsibilities of child care providers is to protect young children from harm. For this reason, many programs include personal safety education in the curriculum to help young children learn ways to cope in potentially harmful situations. Children learn that they have a right to privacy and that they do not have to allow adults to touch them if they would prefer not to be touched. Children also learn to express their feelings appropriately and to discuss their experiences. While such programs do not eliminate all possibilities of abuse or neglect, they may help children to develop a sense of when adult behavior is inappropriate. It is important to stress that personal safety education should not give children the impression that they are responsible for their own safety. Instead, it should help children to learn, in developmentally appropriate ways, how to seek help from caring adults.
At a basic level, personal safety education can teach children their telephone numbers, how to dial the operator or 911, how to get help if they get lost at the store, and what kinds of places to avoid (e.g., alleys, garages, parked cars). This kind of knowledge about the world does not make children fearful; children may feel more in control if they are aware of potential dangers and how to handle them.77 Personal safety education also addresses more specific topics, such as "good or nurturing" versus "bad or harmful" touches, how to say "no" to requests by adults to touch them or otherwise invade their privacy, and telling someone what has happened even when another adult tells them that they must keep it a secret. It also should be made very clear to the children that the responsibility for protecting themselves is not entirely theirs. It is the adults' responsibility to make sure children are safe.
For information about how to assess a child care provider's prevention curriculum, see Appendix H, Risk Indicators: Child Abuse Prevention Curriculum.
This material may be freely reproduced and distributed. However, when doing so, please credit Child Welfare Information Gateway.