Parenting Children and Youth Who Have Experienced Abuse or Neglect


1 FACTSHEET FOR FAMILIES November 2018 Parenting Children WHAT’S INSIDE and Youth Who Have Child abuse and neglect and its effects Experienced Abuse or Neglect How can I help my child or youth heal? Children and youth who have been abused or Developing caring neglected need safe, stable, and nurturing discipline techniques relationships and environments to recover from the trauma they’ve experienced. If you are Where can I find parenting a child or youth with a history of abuse support? or neglect, you might have questions about the Conclusion impacts and how you can help your child heal. This factsheet is intended to help parents (birth, foster, and adoptive) and other caregivers better understand the challenges of caring for a child or youth who has experienced maltreatment and learn about available resources for support. Children’s Bureau/ACYF/ACF/HHS 800.394.3366 | Email: [email protected] |

2 Parenting Children and Youth Who Have Experienced Abuse or Neglect Child Abuse and Neglect and Its Effects Knowing about abuse and neglect (also known as child maltreatment) and their effects will help you respond to the needs of your child or youth while building trust, a sense of safety, and support in your relationship. How you respond to your child’s maltreatment will depend on what you know about his or her history and the type of abuse or neglect experienced. The first step toward understanding how to best parent your child or youth is learning what child maltreatment is. Child maltreatment falls into four main groups: Physical abuse refers to a nonaccidental physical injury (from hitting, kicking, or burning, for example) caused by a ƒ parent, caregiver, or trusted adult with whom the child has regular contact, such as a teacher, babysitter, or coach. Sexual abuse refers to forcing or coercing a child or youth to engage in sexual activity, including exploitation through ƒ pornography. is a pattern of behavior that hurts the emotional development or sense of self-worth of a child or Emotional abuse ƒ youth (for example, constant criticism, threats, or sarcasm; belittling, shaming, or withholding love). ƒ Neglect is the failure of a parent or caregiver to protect a child or youth from harm or provide basic needs (for example, food, shelter, supervision, medical care, education, or emotional nurturing). For more information on types of child abuse and neglect, see the following Child Welfare Information Gateway publication: ƒ (State statutes): Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect laws-policies/statutes/define/ According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( about.html ), children and youth who have experienced abuse or neglect are at higher risk for poor long-term health, impaired mental health, and negative social consequences than those who have not experienced child maltreatment. Examples of poor health outcomes include high blood pressure, delays in physical and emotional development, depression or anxiety, and attachment disorders. Abuse or neglect can impair healthy development by negatively affecting the way a child’s brain develops. Maltreatment can delay or alter how he or she is able to process information and respond emotionally, see right from wrong, anticipate the consequences of actions, and learn from mistakes. The effects of maltreatment can be long-term, occur immediately or years after the abuse, and may depend on several factors, including the following: ƒ The age of the child or youth at the time of the abuse or neglect ƒ Whether the maltreatment happened once or was ongoing Who abused or neglected the child or youth (for example, a parent or other caregiver) ƒ Whether a nurturing person was in the child or youth’s life ƒ The type and severity of the maltreatment ƒ For more detailed information on the effects of child abuse and neglect, see the following Information Gateway publications: Long-Term Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect (factsheet): ƒ long-term-consequences/ (issue brief): ƒ Understanding the Effects of Maltreatment on Brain Development issue-briefs/brain-development/ This material may be freely reproduced and distributed. However, when doing so, please credit Child Welfare Information Gateway. . This publication is available online at 2

3 Novembrm 201r8hvem2omh2tpsb12:1p2/owe2.cievremleh2dfsae2pv2ge 8elb While child abuse and neglect can leave physical and emotional scars, it can also cause trauma and toxic stress. Trauma occurs when someone directly experiences injury or threat of injury or witnesses an event that threatens or causes serious harm to themselves or a loved one. According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, toxic stress can occur when a child lacks a supportive parent or other adult and experiences strong, frequent, or ongoing adversity, such as physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance use or mental illness, or exposure to violence (see ). Responses to trauma experienced by children and youth may vary; some children may be reluctant to trust, some may act out, and some may withdraw from family and friends. For more information about trauma, see the following Information Gateway resources: (tip sheet): Helping Your Child Heal From Trauma ƒ resources/tip-sheets/ ƒ Parenting a Child Who Has Experienced Trauma (factsheet): child-trauma/ Other Resources on Child Abuse and Neglect and Its Effects The American Academy of Pediatrics’ guide, Parenting After Trauma: Understanding Your Child’s Needs: A : Guide for Foster and Adoptive Parents healthy-foster-care-america/Documents/FamilyHandout.pdf handouts with information about ZERO TO THREE’s Healthy Minds: Nurturing Your Child’s Development supporting healthy brain development in the first 3 years of life: healthy-minds-nurturing-your-child-s-development How Can I Help My Child or Youth Heal? This section explores strategies for helping your child or youth build resilience after experiencing abuse or neglect. It also discusses protective factors and capacities that parents can develop to help prevent future child maltreatment or retraumatization. Building Resilience and Promoting Protective Factors and Protective Capacities Although exposure to abuse or neglect increases the risk of negative psychological, social, and emotional short- and long-term outcomes, your child’s resilience may protect him or her from developing poor physical or mental health issues. According to the American Psychological Association, resilience in children and youth enables them to thrive in spite of their adverse circumstances. It involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned over time and can be nurtured through positive and healthy relationships with parents and other caregivers and adults who guide them in healthy problem-solving strategies (see ). As with any skill, resilience must be developed. You can help your child or youth build resilience if you: ƒ Model a positive outlook. When faced with a problem, show your child or youth that the problem is only for a short time and that things will get better. Children and youth learn from your ability to bounce back from and work through tough situations. This material may be freely reproduced and distributed. However, when doing so, please credit Child Welfare Information Gateway. This publication is available online at 3

4 Novembrm 201r8hvem2omh2tpsb12:1p2/owe2.cievremleh2dfsae2pv2ge 8elb ƒ Build confidence. Let your child or youth know when he or she does something well, such as demonstrating kindness or honesty. ƒ Express support. Express love, empathy, and support verbally and physically. Express your love through words, notes, and hugs. ƒ Build connections. Create bonds with friends and family that can support your child or youth during challenges and teach him or her to consider other people’s feelings. ƒ Allow children to express their feelings. Teach them how to identify and describe their feelings and commend them for expressing feelings of hurt or sadness without acting out. ƒ Be consistent. If you say you’ll be there, be there. If you say you’ll listen to concerns, listen. This will help teach your child or youth that people can be trusted. Be patient. ƒ Children’s reactions to trauma vary as widely as the types of trauma one can experience. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Have open and honest talks about the dangers ƒ Teach your child or youth the importance of healthy behaviors. of drugs and alcohol, smoking, and sexually inappropriate behavior. Teach your child the importance of eating properly and exercising. The healing process does not always follow a clear, straight path. After experiencing trauma or maltreatment, resilience takes time to develop. Steps you can take to help your child or youth heal include the following: ƒ Address your child’s physical safety first by assuring him or her that no one will physically touch or harm them. This will help your child or youth develop feelings of trust and openness to psychological and emotional healing. ƒ Address the past as the past. Help your child or youth identify elements of his or her current life that are different from the past. Use this as a chance to discuss expectations and personal boundaries—limits set in relationships that protect our sense of self. To encourage feelings of belonging and attachment, provide regular routines around mealtime, naps, and bedtime; talk with your child or youth about the importance of feelings; and teach him or her to solve problems in age-appropriate ways. , at For more ways to help your child or youth build resilience, see the tip sheet, Building Resilience in Children and Teens . As children and youth can be resilient, so can parents. By increasing your own resiliency, you will help to improve your child or youth’s long-term well-being. As you develop these skills, you build protective factors, which are elements or tools that help to reduce the negative effects of child maltreatment and the trauma resulting from it. This material may be freely reproduced and distributed. However, when doing so, please credit Child Welfare Information Gateway. This publication is available online at 4

5 Novembrm 201r8hvem2omh2tpsb12:1p2/owe2.cievremleh2dfsae2pv2ge 8elb Protective Factors Issues like substance use, poverty, parental stress, and lack of parental supervision present risks (also known as risk factors) that can increase your child’s chances of developing poor health, experiencing abuse or neglect, or other negative outcomes. Protective factors, such as strong social connections and solid parent-child attachments, may buffer the effect of risks and help children, youth, and families manage difficult circumstances and fare better in school, work, and life. Building protective factors to support children and youth who have experienced child abuse and neglect can also help increase their resilience. Learn more on Information Gateway’s Protective Factors to Promote Well-Being webpage at promoting/protectfactors . Protective Capacities As a parent, you also have the potential to protect your children. These abilities, known as protective capacities, develop over time. Improving your own mental and emotional well-being will help you to develop these protective capacities, which will then better enable you to help your child or youth build resilience and reduce the risk of experiencing harm, including abuse or neglect. Protective capacities can be categorized as mental, emotional, or behavioral. 1 Mental Protective Capacity Your knowledge, understanding, and perceptions of your child or youth : Your feelings and attitudes toward, and identification with, your child or youth Emotional Protective Capacity: Your actions and behaviors toward your child or youth Behavioral Protective Capacity: A parent who develops healthy protective capacities may incorporate positive characteristics into his or her mental, emotional, and behavioral thoughts, feelings, and actions (see Table 1 for characteristics associated with each capacity). 2 Table 1: Protective Capacities Mental Protective Capacity Emotional Protective Capacity Behavioral Protective Capacity Has an accurate perception of the • • Feels a positive attachment to the • Has a history of protecting the child child child • Sets aside own needs for benefit of Recognizes threats to the child’s • Shows love toward the child • the child safety Has empathy for the child • • Controls harmful impulses in • Has realistic expectations of the child • Is sensitive toward the child parenting situations 1 These terms and definitions are adapted from the Children’s Bureau’s Center for States’ publication Protective Capacities and Protective Factors: Common Ground for Protecting Children and Strengthening Families (2016) available at . 2 The information in this table is adapted from the Action for Child Protection publication Assessing Caregiver Protective Capacities Related to Parenting (2010) . available at This material may be freely reproduced and distributed. However, when doing so, please credit Child Welfare Information Gateway. This publication is available online at 5

6 Novembrm 201r8hvem2omh2tpsb12:1p2/owe2.cievremleh2dfsae2pv2ge 8elb Building a Strong Relationship With Your Child or Youth A child’s earliest relationships are some of the most important. Attachment refers to the relationship that develops as a result of a caregiver’s sensitive attention to a child and the child’s responses to the caregiver. A strong and secure emotional bond between children and their caregivers is critical for children’s physical, social, and emotional development, including their ability to form trusting relationships and to exhibit positive behaviors. Helping parents learn and practice the nurturing skills that lead to strong, secure attachments is a well-supported pathway to positive outcomes for children. If children lack an attachment to a caring adult, receive inconsistent nurturing, or experience harsh punishment, the consequences can affect their lifelong health, well-being, and relationships with others. In some cases, children may lack a strong attachment because their parents work multiple jobs to provide for them, so less time is spent together building a strong and secure emotional bond. Parents may need additional support and resources to address this issue (see the Where Can I Find Support? section of this factsheet for more information.) To help build a secure relationship with your child or youth: ƒ Be ava ilable. Provide consistent support to build feelings of trust and safety. Be sup ƒ Comfort your child or youth when he or she is upset, modeling appropriate displays portive and empathic. of affection and building self-esteem. Be enc ƒ Listen and be involved and interested in your child’s activities. Stay aware of his or her interests and ouraging. friends and stay actively supportive. Resources for Building Resilience and Promoting Protective Factors and Protective Capacities The American Psychological Association’s guide Resilience Guide for Parents and Teachers: helpcenter/resilience.aspx The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Building Resilience webpage: healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Building-Resilience/Pages/default.aspx The Children’s Bureau’s annual Prevention Resource Guide offers parents and caregivers tip sheets and more information about protective factors: tip-sheets/ The Children’s Bureau’s Child Welfare Capacity Building Center for States’ webinar “Protective Capacities and Protective Factors: Common Ground for Protecting Children and Strengthening Families” (free registration required). Although the webinar is intended for child welfare managers, the information on protective capacities and protective factors may be equally helpful for parents and other caregivers: states/focus-areas/child-protection/ (scroll down to Webinars) This material may be freely reproduced and distributed. However, when doing so, please credit Child Welfare Information Gateway. This publication is available online at 6

7 Novembrm 201r8hvem2omh2tpsb12:1p2/owe2.cievremleh2dfsae2pv2ge 8elb Developing Caring Discipline Techniques As part of normal development, children and youth act out on occasion and challenge the authority of parents or caregivers. Toddlers throw tantrums. Children whine. Teenagers argue. To help a child learn from these natural behaviors, parents need sound techniques for handling them. occurs when people have experiences that, whether or not they are aware of it, remind them of Retraumatization a past trauma, leading them to experience the initial traumatic event again. Positive discipline techniques teach children and youth the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior and help a child internalize self-control, self-discipline, and self-respect. Children should always know that you love, support, and respect them, even when you correct their unacceptable behavior. When parents are angry or feel frustrated they may use unpleasant or painful methods—physical or emotional—in reaction to and for the purpose of discouraging behavior. A child who is misbehaving can be frustrating but using physical force or other abusive techniques to teach a lesson is never appropriate. For children and youth who have experienced abuse or neglect, using physical force or other abusive techniques could elicit memories of past trauma or cause retraumatization. How harmful a method is may depend not only on the punishment chosen but also on the abuse or neglect your child or youth experienced. For example, sending your child to bed hungry could retraumatize her if she had previously experienced neglect by being denied food. Other factors like lack of sleep and a poor diet can also impair a child’s ability to make good choices or to show self- control. Before disciplining a child for misbehaving, consider whether he or she is tired, hungry, or reacting to an underlying issue like fear or anxiety. Try to engage your child or youth in a quiet activity that will provide needed rest or decrease anxiety or offer a snack or an early meal to ease his or her hunger. Positive Discipline Tips and Techniques Positive discipline that works at one age may not work at another. Children change as they go through their developmental stages, so using age-appropriate discipline when parenting a child or youth who has experienced abuse or neglect is important in promoting healthy development and preventing retraumatization. Allow your child or youth to learn at his or her own pace. Break tasks into small, manageable steps that will provide a sense of success and accomplishment. This material may be freely reproduced and distributed. However, when doing so, please credit Child Welfare Information Gateway. This publication is available online at 7

8 Novembrm 201r8hvem2omh2tpsb12:1p2/owe2.cievremleh2dfsae2pv2ge 8elb Table 2 shows ways in which discipline builds and changes over time as children go from very young, to school age, to teenagers. It provides suggestions on how you can enforce discipline through role modeling, setting rules and limits, and using encouragement to discipline instead of physical or emotional abuse. 3 Table 2: Discipline by Developmental Stages Young Children School-Age Children Teens (Ages 6–12) (Ages 0–5) (Ages 13–18) Role Modeling Role Modeling Role Modeling Although your teen may not engage • • You are your child’s greatest role Children learn by watching adults. At • with you like he or she did as a child, model. Behave and treat others, this age, showing children how to act what you do and say is still important. including your child, the way you and how to follow rules is crucial for • Help your teenager manage self- expect them to behave and treat learning. control by modeling control of your others. If you treat children with respect • own emotions. Role play social skills and problem- • and kindness, they will learn positive solving for greater learning. behaviors Rules/Limits Rules/Limits Rules/Limits • Rules and expectations should • Establish an end time for a negative Set up rules for things such as • be clear, simple, and enforced consequence, such as loss of TV time homework, chores, time with friends, consistently by following through for 24 hours or loss of a video game curfews, and dating and discuss them on consequences. This helps young for 2 days. with your teenager. children feel secure. For example, if Be consistent but also be flexible and • Give your teen control over some • you say, “You will have to get out of allow for independent choice making things, which will help to limit the the bath if you keep splashing,” make when possible. number of power struggles and sure you follow through. will ensure your teen respects your decisions. Encouragement Encouragement Encouragement • • Provide your child with positive Discipline is also about recognizing • Guide your teen in making decisions good behavior. Give praise to reward attention daily, including quality time and solve problems with them. Ask spent just with him or her. good behavior. for their input and ideas and decide • Don’t expect perfection. Praise their the best solution together. efforts so they know they are doing Empower them to make their own • well and don’t have to be perfect. choices while giving them your support. No Physical Punishment No Physical Punishment No Physical Punishment Never call your child names or hit • • Avoid negative methods of behavior When your teen breaks a rule, take • them. You will teach them that this correction, such as sarcasm, teasing, away privileges such as screen time type of behavior is acceptable. verbal abuse, or physical punishment, or time with friends and discuss why • Use direct eye contact and a calm as they do not help children learn.2 these consequences have occurred. tone when giving a direction, Set up a behavior plan or chart to • Communicate with them about • a warning, or when enforcing a decrease negative behaviors. At what they need to do to earn their consequence. this age, children are eager to work privilege(s) back. toward rewards. Give praise and acknowledge good • choices. 3 Unless noted otherwise, the items listed in this table are adapted from the Behavior Corner, LLC, webpage, Discipline Considerations Based on Age (2014), available at . This material may be freely reproduced and distributed. However, when doing so, please credit Child Welfare Information Gateway. This publication is available online at 8

9 Novembrm 201r8hvem2omh2tpsb12:1p2/owe2.cievremleh2dfsae2pv2ge 8elb Resources on Discipline Prevent Child Abuse America’s webpage Tips for Parents: Teaching Discipline to Your Children offers advice for parents on teaching discipline: tips-for-parents-teaching-discipline-to-your-children/ includes tip sheets for parents and caregivers, such as Dealing With The annual Prevention Resource Guide Temper Tantrums, which address several parenting issues. The free guide and tip sheets are available on Information Gateway’s website: resource-guide/ The Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance provides definitions of discipline, parenting styles, and abuse, as well as examples of the difference between discipline and abuse: Preventing-Child-Abuse-Neglect/Discipline-Parenting-Styles-and-Abuse For more information on the differences between discipline, punishment, and child abuse, visit Information Gateway’s Discipline Versus Abuse webpage: Where Can I Find Support? Recovering from abuse and neglect is a journey that affects the entire family. Parents and caregivers need support to learn as much as they can about child maltreatment. Developing your parenting skills can go a long way toward promoting your child’s well-being and building a healthy family. Circle of Parents offers parent-led self-help groups where anyone in a parenting role can openly discuss the successes and challenges of raising children: . Parent Education and Training Parent education programs offer ways to handle demanding situations and enhance problem-solving skills. These support and training programs are geared toward reinforcing your positive parenting skills and teaching you effective strategies to reduce the occurrence of your child’s misbehavior. Parent education programs can be online or in-person, involve one-to-one instruction, or take place in a group setting. Whether you prefer a course with direct instruction, videos, or another format, successful programs: Promote positive family interaction ƒ Involve fathers ƒ Use interactive training techniques ƒ ƒ Offer opportunities to practice new skills ƒ Teach emotional communication skills ƒ Encourage peer support This material may be freely reproduced and distributed. However, when doing so, please credit Child Welfare Information Gateway. This publication is available online at 9

10 Novembrm 201r8hvem2omh2tpsb12:1p2/owe2.cievremleh2dfsae2pv2ge 8elb Resources on Parent Education Nurturing Parenting Programs offer parents materials and resources designed to build nurturing parenting skills: The website for the FRIENDS National Resource Center for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention, a service of the Children’s Bureau, has several resources for parents: Information Gateway’s Parent Education Programs webpage provides programs and resources that have been successful in supporting parents and strengthening parenting skills: preventing/prevention-programs/parented/ Therapy and Support Groups Dealing with the effects of maltreatment can be challenging. You and your family may wish to seek support from a professional. Therapy and support groups can provide children, youth, and caregivers with the skills necessary to build healthy relationships, overcome past trauma, and prevent reoccurring or future trauma. Therapists best suited to assist with parenting children and youth who have experienced abuse or neglect should: Be trained and knowledgeable about the impact of trauma on children, youth, and families ƒ ƒ Allow and encourage your participation in treatment ƒ Not restrain a child or youth or intrude on his or her physical space, as children and youth who have been maltreated need to develop clear boundaries to feel safe and prevent retraumatization If you’re an adoptive parent, it’s important that the therapist you seek fits the needs of your family and is “adoption , offers Finding and Working With Adoption-Competent Therapists competent.” Information Gateway’s factsheet, information on the different approaches to therapy (for example, group or family therapy, individual psychotherapy, cognitive therapy, and parent-child interaction therapy), treatment settings, and tips for finding the right therapist for adoptive families, but many of the tips are applicable to other families, too: therapist/ . Which therapy is best for you and your family may depend on the age of your child, your goals, and the challenges that you and your family want to address. Resources on Therapy and Support Groups The National Child Traumatic Stress Network provides summaries of trauma-informed therapies to fit your family’s needs: To find support groups and other resources in your State, visit the National Foster Care & Adoption Directory: This material may be freely reproduced and distributed. However, when doing so, please credit Child Welfare Information Gateway. This publication is available online at 10

11 Parenting Children and Youth Who Have Experienced Abuse or Neglect Conclusion If you are the parent or caregiver of a child or youth who has experienced abuse and neglect, helping him or her through that trauma can be daunting, but there are resources available to help. It’s important to remember that many children and youth who have been abused or neglected do not grow up to abuse others and can live happy and healthy lives. You and your family play an important role in your child’s healing. The more you know about child maltreatment and the services available for support, the better prepared you will be to help your child through this difficult time. Suggested citation: Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2018). Parenting a child who has experienced abuse or neglect . Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families Administration on Children, Youth and Families Children’s Bureau

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