Abusive Parenting Or Caretaking: The Legacy Of Family Violence

BY: Christina Crawford

The Legacy Of Family Violence

Book Review

Feather pen

If we as parents are not in touch with our own feelings and our own abuse we can't be in touch with the feelings of our children..."We can't heal what we can't feel," and thus the set-up for abuse...abandonment and neglect continues from one generation to the next......Jim Drush

Today's children are the first generation in modern history to know that it is wrong for someone to hurt them

This awareness has been accomplished through educational institutions, media campaigns against child abuse, and increasing social consciousness. It is a fundamental shift in consciousness, one whose effects on the next generation of adults cannot be predicted.

Test cases are now being argued in court concerning the rights of minors. Children have brought these lawsuits; children now are determining where they can receive the best care and fighting to stay there. When no one rescues them from daily threats, violence, and torture in the hands of their caretakers, children are killing abusive adults.

Children are believing what they have been told and are now protecting themselves and their rights. Many adults have not yet caught on. They are mystified by this extraordinary turn of events that has happened before their very eyes, but without their full awareness or permission.
And yet, statistics show reported cases of child abuse have risen from 60,000 in 1974 to nearly three million in 1992.~

Until recently, it was widely believed that abusive parents were the only perpetrators of the primary long-term effects of family violence. But there are many others who care-taker children, who hold power by being those upon whom children depend for their survival and well-being. These people work in adoption and foster care agencies, hospitals, doctors' offices, schools and churches, mental health institutions, and institutions for the disabled. They include lawyers, judges, elected officials, financiers, employers, and product manufacturers, all of whom hold positions of trust and responsibility that can be abused, misused, or betrayed.

What are the facts?

· Today, the federal government reports over 3 million children abused every year in America;8
· Another 2 million children and teenagers each year are thrown out of their homes by abusive parents or run away from incest and violence;9
·600,000 babies are born each year to teenage girls;10
·500,000 children are living in institutions;11
·400,000 drug-addicted babies are born each year, of which approximately 50,000 are addicted to cocaine;12
·3.2 million children live exclusively with their grandparents; 4% of these children are white, 12% are black. Approximately 1.6 million children live with their grandmothers only, who receive only about 50% of the financial support available to a foster parent.13
The Children's Defense fund offers these statistics from their 1994 report, which make "One Day in the Life of American Children":14

3 children die from child abuse;
9 children are murdered;
13 children die from guns
27 children-a classroom-die from poverty
30 children are wounded by guns
63 babies die before they are one month old
101 babies die before their first birthday
145 babies are born at very low birth-weight (less than 3.25 pounds)
202 children are arrested for drug offenses
307 children are arrested for crimes of violence
340 children are arrested for drinking or drunken driving
480 teenagers get syphilis or gonorrhea
636 babies are born to women who had late or no prenatal care
801 babies are born at low birth-weight (less than 5.5 pounds)
1,115 teenagers have abortions
1,234 children run away from home
1,340 teenagers have babies
2,255 teenagers drop out of school
2,350 children are in adult jails
2,871 teenagers get pregnant
2,860 children see their parents divorce
2,868 babies are born into poverty
3,325 babies are born to unmarried women
5,314 children are arrested for some offense
5,703 teenagers are victims of violent crime
7,945 children are reported abused or neglected
8,400 teenagers become sexually active
100,000 children are homeless
1,200,000 latchkey children come home to houses in which there is a gun

In January 1992, Science magazine released a report stating that American children today are more likely than children thirty years ago to be suicidal, homicidal, and obese, to suffer from behavioral disorders, and to perform poorly on standardized achievement tests. This report was written by a Stanford University economics professor, Victor Fuchs, and research assistant, Diane Reklis. It also stated that the number of children in poverty in 1990, about 21%, is higher than in 1970 or 1980. However, between 1960 and 1970, when government spending for children's services nearly doubled, so did the number of teenage suicides, homicides, and births to teenage mothers, implying that the relation between these problems in teenagers and poverty is not as obvious as people seem to believe today.

Between 1960 and 1988, government spending for American children rose only 2.9% per year, when adjusted for inflation.

In 1960, 7% of American children lived in a household with no adult male present. By 1988, the number had nearly tripled to 20%. And, not surprisingly, one of every five children in the United States is poor.

The so-called "underclass" of the poorly nourished and poorly educated are producing what some professionals are calling an epidemic of teen pregnancies in every region of the country. A high percentage of these babies born have dangerously low birth weights due to lack of prenatal care or are at high risk because of AIDS infection or because of drugs and alcohol consumed by the mother or father at conception or during pregnancy.

Millions of dollars are needed to keep such infants alive after birth. In some large cities, the cost of caring for these infants in public hospitals without insurance reimbursements is jeopardizing public health care availability to other citizens. If these children survive, they will most likely end up in family court, child protective service systems, foster care, orphanages, or other long-term care facilities or institutions paid for by taxpayers.

Many millions of American adults do not take adequate care of the children born to them. Either these adults do not know how to provide proper care, or they do not want children, or they vent their rage from their own childhoods on their children.

No system has yet been devised that is capable of providing healthy, long term care for children without parents on such a massive scale. The majority of children who enter foster care as infants and toddlers do not leave foster care until they are teenagers whom no one wants, or until they reach eighteen years old and are no longer the responsibility of the system. The entire child protective services system is desperately in need of a complete overhaul, as it is no longer able to provide even basic care. In some instances, rather than providing help and protection, the system itself becomes an instrument of re-abuse and re-victimization of adult clients as well as children.

How has the quality of care for our children reached such a low?

Dr. Ray Helfer and Dr. Henry Kempe, both practicing pediatricians, alerted us to what they saw as a dangerously growing cause for concern in writing The Battered Child Syndrome in the late 1960s. In this groundbreaking book, they urged doctors and hospital emergency room attendants to be on the lookout for infants and children whose injuries could not have happened in the way or at the time reported by their parents. The publication of this book resulted in the first mandatory federal reporting laws, which were passed in 1974 and increased legislation in individual states, counties, and municipalities.

Attention was drawn first to physical abuse and life-endangering neglect, because these were the easiest forms to identify. Years later, sexual abuse of infants, children, and teenagers began to be identified. As the number of reports of abuse grew, so did public information and concern about the problem and how to handle it.

That children had rights was a topic of conversation for the first time since the introduction of child labor laws at the turn of the twentieth century. And yet, as recently as the 1970s, in most jurisdictions it was considered a crime of murder only if you killed someone else's child- not if you killed your own. Parents who murdered their own children, as long as the child was under the age of eighteen, were usually just put on probation, if, indeed, they were brought into court at all.

"Child abuse prevention and intervention are relatively new phenomena. 'Child Abuse' was not indexed in Index Medicus until 1965 and 'infanticide' was not indexed until 1970. Much of the limited medical literature on fatal child abuse has been published within the last three years. The preponderance of medical and other data are available only from un-circulated sources."

The attitude of many parents toward their children is, "I brought you into this world, I gave you your life, and I can also take it away." Many adult survivors say that they heard those exact words from one or both parents repeatedly
. To believe that one's child's life is one's personal property to be disposed of at will is to assume the role of god or slave master, that the parent is equal in power to the great Creator.

Often parents who hold such a belief are themselves survivors of family violence who are now behaving towards their children exactly as their parents behaved towards them years before. They have internalized the neglect, violence, and inappropriate sexual behavior they experienced as children and have identified themselves with the original aggressors, their own parents and abusers.

Since no one ever intervened on their behalf when they were children, these adult survivors have a difficult time understanding why they should be criticized when their parents were not. If they are less violent with their children than their parents were with them, then they are even more perplexed by challenges to their parenting behavior. These survivors will tell you sincerely that they don't behave nearly as badly as their parents did toward them. Others will tell you that they were beaten half to death as children and they lived through it. They will even say that it was for their own good, that their parents loved them and did their best. Often, in the course of the same conversation, it will also become clear that today they resent all authority and have had trouble with the law.

When "love" and violent abuse are entwined in the mind of the survivor, there is a serious problem, for violence is mistaken for needed attention. In this confusion, they believe if someone loves them, they will hit, beat, humiliate, frighten, and scream at them-all for their own good. There are millions and millions of American adults who live as victims of this belief.

In this country, many children are treated by their parents and caretakers in ways that the Geneva Convention prohibits in the treatment of prisoners of war. International law prohibits starvation, the withholding of adequate shelter and food, rape, torture, or public humiliation of war prisoners; yet those punishments are common in abusive homes, where they are perpetrated on infants, toddlers, small children, and teenagers and not just in isolated incidents, but in millions of cases every single year.

Dr. Helfer describes what he calls the World of Abnormal Child Rearing, or W.A.R.:
19 (graph on preceding page)

The conception of an unplanned or unwanted child is seen as the beginning of the cycle of abnormal childhood and that child is at high risk of abuse even before birth. Many survivors have told me that their parents admitted openly that they never wanted children and that having them ruined their [the parents'] life. Many children are made to feel guilty for a long and difficult birth. Once born, the child's needs are not met and, rather, he or she is required to serve the needs of the parent(s). The child grows up unable to make choices for his/her own well-being. The child's senses are so constantly assaulted that they close off altogether, making him/her unable to sort through, believe, or act on the barrage of information coming in from the world. Eventually strong feelings are replaced or repressed with automatic behaviors, and all that distorted learning is carried intact into adulthood.

But these behaviors, distorted as they are, enable the abused child to survive unbearable and life-threatening circumstances. As survival techniques, they will not be relinquished easily. Until new experience, new information, new skills, and new role models are sought and found, the old ways of being no matter how unsatisfactory, will be maintained. Sooner or later, however, what was perfectly reasonable behavior in the face of life threatening events in childhood will be found totally unsuitable in adult life; but it will take a lot of faith and first-hand experience to overcome the fear of annihilation and to make the choice for change.

For the survivor, the first hurdles on the road to healing from the trauma of family violence is to have one's experience believed by at least one other person and to overcome the social denial that such things really happen.

The next hurdle is to find adequate personal support (i.e., friends, spouse, therapist, self-help group, etc.) with which to work through the past pain, however long it takes, without succumbing to pressure to stop upsetting everyone else and to get the process over with quickly. The next hurdle is to align oneself with a like-minded community in order to further recovery. And the final hurdle is to live one's belief system, honoring the values one has learned to be true so that the quality of one's life begins to change to the benefit of oneself and others.

Many work places are also extremely dysfunctional and abusive. In January 1990, The New York Times reported that studies showed abuse of medical students to be a widespread phenomenon. Forty-six percent of the student body of one medical school claimed that they had been abused at some time in their training, and eighty percent of its fourth-year students reported having been abused. The studies concluded that the medical school's students were suffering "long lasting emotional scars that may affect their care of patients as physicians" and that resulted in inferior learning and lowered self-esteem.

The Times article suggests that word of mouth regarding extremely high levels of stress, mistreatment, verbal and physical abuse, and sexual harassment has discouraged young people from enrolling in medical school and choosing medicine as a profession. These studies also indicate abuse of drugs and alcohol among students.

Judging from the high levels of abusive behavior in such institutions, chances are that their teachers and students are survivors of family abuse and violence who have never resolved issues from their own traumatic childhoods.

Upon determining that many shared this common background, some medical schools recently have made available to their students Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings, other support groups, and counseling sessions.

Dysfunctional parenting and care-taking have long been identified as the primary sources of childhood trauma. It is important to realize, however, that parents and caretakers become abusive because they themselves were abused as children. Thus survivor behaviors negatively impact both adults and children, generation after generation. However, when parents are addressed only as abusers, without acknowledgment of their own childhood histories, the resistance encountered is fierce, making constructive action all the more difficult. As a result, children are typically removed to the insufficient care of institutions, because no realistic system for family rehabilitation exists if the parents are not alcoholic, otherwise addicted, in jail, and or willing to learn alternative behaviors.

Children do not create child abuse. It is imperative to keep that truth in mind when we as a society address complex survivor issues and treatment of adult survivors. We need to create educational programs for teenagers on child care before they become parents. We need to retrain health care professionals (including physicians), judges, teachers, social workers, lawyers, police, and planners of university curricula.

In 1989, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child,
the first comprehensive international law concerned with the treatment of children. It reads as follows:

The Right to Survival
through the provision of primary health care,
adequate food, clean water and shelter.

The Right to Protection
from abuse, neglect and exploitation, including
the right to special protection in times of war; and

The Right to Develop
in a safe environment, through formal education, constructive play, advanced health care and the opportunity to participate in the social, economic, religious and political life of their culture, free from discrimination.

By 1992, 39 nations had ratified the United Nations Convention, providing for the rights of the child. The United States of America was not one of these nations.

This powerful information has been taken in part from the book "No Safe Place" "The Legacy of Family Violence" Christina Crawford...The author of "Mommie Dearest."

And Always Keep In Mind The Most Important Factor

  "What we live with we learn,
and what we learn
we practice, and what we
practice, we become...
and what we become
has consequences"...
AND almost always, I have
found, who we become
has little to do with who
we were meant to be.

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(Est. 4.15.96)

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