What type of help is available?
Parent and caregiver education, home visits, and parent support groups are great ways to teach new ways to discipline and care for children, as well as understanding about children’s developmental phases. Looking on the internet for local sources is a good way to find out what is available in your area, as is talking with the child’s doctor or school.
Mental healthcare professionals like marriage and family therapists (MFTs) will assess children, as well as their parent(s), and may ask in-depth questions about the adult, child, family, and social risk factors related to abuse or neglect (such as social isolation, depression, income level, every day stressors, drug and/or alcohol use and child abuse potentiality). Socially isolated mothers who are neglectful have few members in their support networks (few other adults to talk to) and receive little emotional support.
Questions about drug and alcohol use are relevant because parents with drug or alcohol disorders are statistically more likely to exhibit abusive and neglecting behaviors. Questions may arise about domestic violence between parents, as the rate of child abuse in these homes is 15 times higher than the average. Other areas to question include animal cruelty in the home, as this is an indicator of violence in the home.
A professional helper will guide the therapy session away from alienation of family members--not focusing on parental blame. Likewise, the parent must learn not to blame the child. Research suggests that many abusive parents have a distorted view of their child, believing the child intentionally antagonizes and holds power over the parent. Thus, the parent feels victimized and justified in implementing harsh punishments. If parents have had trauma in their lives, it is important that they work through their own trauma concerns so that they can see their children’s behavior as independent from the parent’s trauma. Often, the behavior can be multigenerational and if parents have not worked through their own experiences, they may personalize their child’s acting out behavior that this could harm the parent/child attachment.
There are several programs and treatment methods in use today and a mental healthcare provider can make the best determination for treatment once assessment is complete. Some of the most well-known programs offer case management, social support, life or parenting advice, therapy services, respite care, and financial assistance for basic living.
For children exhibiting symptoms of PTSD, therapists help the family process the trauma through psycho-education, skills training to manage distressing thoughts, feelings, behaviors, improving parenting skills and family communication. Some programs are specially built for multi-problem families and address parent training, stress reduction, basic skills for children, money management, social support, and home safety.
One program option begins at the prenatal stage, where expectant mothers receive home visitation services for the prenatal health of mother and child, parenting skills, family planning for future births, education attainment, and job acquisition. Positive outcomes include prenatal healthcare, improved child care and less punitive discipline, parental education and work attainment, fewer emergency room visits, and father involvement. Adolescents whose mothers participated in the program demonstrate fewer school failures, anti-social behaviors, and substance abuse.
Parents commonly have inaccurate and unhelpful thought processes. Children also tend to excuse the behaviors of their parents. This leads to an agreement of silence. Breaking this silence and “normalizing” the child’s feelings and reactions to abuse is an important step in therapy. The child begins to gain a sense of reassurance when others understand and verify that the chaotic world he or she is experiencing is indeed not the way it should be. With treatment, children learn skills to deal with emotional overload, to identify emotions, and to regulate them. This process helps the child facilitate a decrease in emotional reactivity, anxiety, fear, depression, and distorted thoughts. Adults must also learn to manage their anger, stress, and anxiety as well as their abusive and neglectful “triggers.”