Emotional Maltreatment

Gail Hornor, DNP, RNC, CPNP

Disclosures

J Pediatr Health Care. 2012;26(6):436-442. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Abstract

Child abuse is a problem that affects the lives of many American children. The public is often bombarded with information regarding horrific cases of physical and sexual abuse. Emotional maltreatment, however, has been slow to achieve recognition as a serious social problem for a variety of reasons. Compared with physical or sexual abuse, emotional maltreatment is more difficult to identify and define, and good epidemiological data are not available. An erroneous perception also exists that the sequelae of emotional maltreatment are less severe than that of physical and/or sexual abuse. Prompt identification of emotional maltreatment, appropriate intervention and referral, and reporting of concerns to child protective services are essential to the health and well-being of the child. This article will define emotional maltreatment, discuss consequences of emotional maltreatment, and provide implications for pediatric nurse practitioner practice.

Introduction

Child abuse is a problem that affects the lives of many American children. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (2010), in 2009 more than 825,000 American children were victims of abuse. Despite the scope of the problem, the recognition of child abuse as a social problem in the United States is relatively recent. Physical abuse was the first form of child abuse to receive professional and public recognition, largely because of the publication by Kempe, Silverman, Steele, Droegemueller, and Silver (1962) that first described the battered child syndrome. It was not until the 1970s that sexual abuse began receiving professional awareness in the United States, reflecting a generalized societal recognition of the problem (Hornor, 2008a, Hornor, 2008b). Today, the public is often bombarded with information regarding horrific cases of physical and sexual abuse. Emotional maltreatment, on the other hand, has been slow to achieve recognition as a serious social problem for a variety of reasons. Emotional maltreatment is more difficult to identify and define than is physical or sexual abuse, and good epidemiological data regarding emotional maltreatment are not available. The erroneous perception also exists that the sequelae of emotional maltreatment are less severe compared with those of physical and/or sexual abuse (Egeland, 2009). Emotional maltreatment may actually be the most prevalent form of child abuse, but it is also the most hidden, under-reported, and least studied form of abuse (Barnet, Miller-Perrin, & Perrin, 2005).

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