Four Theoretical Models of Child Abuse
I have been asked to write a report describing the four theoretical models of child abuse to include: Medical, Psychological, Sociological and Feminist approaches which I will start off by describing each. Next I will compare and contrast the different theoretical models of abuse then conclude by evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the four.
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The medical model was created by Kempe in 1968. He was an American paediatrician and suggested an idea called the ‘battered child syndrome’ which as a result of this lead to child abuse to the head of the research arena. He also put forward that there was a ‘cycle of abuse’ where parents who had been abused/battered as a child consecutively abused/battered their own children and he got this idea from looking into parents who were abusive towards their children.
“In 1978 he stated that four factors were present in child abuse cases:
1. The parents must have a background of emotional or physical deprivation and perhaps abuse as well
2. A child must be seen as unlovable or disappointing
3. There must be a crisis
4. There are no effective sources of aid at the moment of crisis” (O’Hagan, M; Smith, M 2002)
For several years the pattern of which was used for intervening when a child was being abused hence focused on Kempe’s work to promote programmes to break the ‘cycle of abuse’ such as therapy for children who have been abused, crisis counselling and help lines for parents. The model consequently puts forward that child abuse is a type of disease which has precise signs and symptoms. By presenting it as if it was a disease led people believing that it was ‘predictable, preventable and curable’ just like all the other diseases in the world however, as we know, that is not the case. In the 1970’s this caused the medical model to be immensely criticized and in 1976 other explanations started to be required. The model also suggested that the mothers who’d abused their children suffered from poor attachments themselves when younger and what’s best for the child is to be taken out of the home so their parent’s could be treated.
Psychologists have always required proposing theories that link to the way a household works as a family and demote that any breakdowns of relationships within the family is classed as a family dysfunction. A great deal has been talked about as to reasons that can cause breakdowns. The psychological theory hangs upon whether therapy for families can restore weak relationships and prevent child abuse. Together with this theory it is believed that all frustration and aggression of the weak relationships are aimed towards one member of the family which is frequently the weakest member known as ‘scapegoating’. Although there is certainty that the majority of families use a scapegoat, there have also been times when more than one or all of the children have been abused by the parents.
With lots of psychological perspectives, research has been linked with the similarities of animals and how they act. “Reite (1987) put forward the view that there were many factors common to human child care and neglect to that of animals.” (Jenks, C 2005) He noticed that if there was any kind of disturbances between the mother and the infant early on during attachment, the animals then abuse those. In 1981 Barash compared similarities with Reite’s theory and called it the ‘culling process’ of which the weakest in the litter are neglected in certain situations such as when there are shortages of food. Steele and Pollock (1974) suggested that child abuse happens due to extreme demands in the superego and that the parent’s psychological make-up/DNA may be the problem.
Sociological research focuses on studying how and why people live in specific conditions, and how the patterns of which people live can change. Sociologist’s search for the link that the environment people live in leads to the results of living in a specific way and deliberate a great deal on how the family perform and operate as a whole. Poverty, poor housing, unemployment, poor health care and social deprivation are all specified as reasons for the actions of others. For example poor housing has been linked with ill health and certainly a shortened lifespan by sociologists. They have measured different people with their situations and referred to where they were from, where they have lived, what they include in their diet… As a result of this Parton in 1975 linked specific factors they have experienced in their lives to people who abuse their children.
There are several links which are not enough income to survive with, not having a job, living in flats or high rise blocks, the failure to get out of where they are and join Sure start centres and nursery groups… Though, if this were accurate and true one would assume that all child abuse takes place in families on the Registrar General’s social scale with a social class of 5. On the other hand, statistics show that child abuse takes place in all social classes whether they are high class, middle class or low class. There is a sociological link here for example, those who are living in underprivileged areas and are unemployed, are statistically more likely to abuse their children rather than those that are more comfortably well off.
The feminist model focuses on the role of women and how they are seen as carers, particularly within their family. With the beginning of sexual abuse being discussed more openly, there have been many theories proposed by feminists. The theories are mainly based on sexual politics and consider power relationships between both men and women. The feminists were able to suggest very persuasive theories due to the fact that men are the main perpetrators and the judges who judge the perpetrators are men. In 1988 Beatrix Campbell stated when writing about the Cleveland case that ‘the gender factor was salient to Cleveland’. She then continued to demonstrate how the case confronted and tested the stereotypes towards doctors, abusers and victims. Though contributing influential arguments towards the causes of sex abuse, they mistreated the fact that approximately 10% of sexual abusers are women and victims experiencing sex abuse can not be just female but male as well.
In the Cleveland case (1987) 121 children were separated from their families and removed from their homes. This was because social workers who were working with doctors upheld claims that the children showed signs of being sexually abused. The doctors used a new technique which identified that there was an area to be concerned about. On the other hand a male dominated police force declined to accept that such a large amount of children could have been abused because it was such an acute offence. The media covered the case and mainly agreed and took sides with the police so the women social workers found themselves attacked by the media and politicians. This was because they failed to protect the children and their lives from being abused then also neglected to remove them in conditions they were living in. (www.dailymail.co.uk, 01/12/08)
Comparisons and Contrasts of the four models
The medical model, psychological model and sociological model are all similar as they all believe that abuse is within the family and present ways in which it can be prevented. The medical model focuses on the ‘cycle of abuse’ so if parents were abused when they were young they would then abuse their children. The model concentrated on programmes to try and break the cycle such as crisis counselling and help lines for parents and therapy for children who have been abused. The psychological model was centred on families however it looked at the way in which the families functioned and believed that a ‘scapegoat’ child was the victim of any abuse. Similarly it believed that therapy could be used to repair poor relationships, which was then believed to prevent child abuse. The sociological model however concentrates on how the environment affects behaviour.
This is similar with medical model because certain factors in people’s lives have been linked with them abusing children such as ‘the cycle of abuse’ though in this case the factors are unemployment, poverty, poor health etc. From looking at all of the models I have seen that there are links between them all apart from the feminist model. This is because the three other models are based on families however the feminist model does not link with them as it is focuses on being negative towards men. It put forward the idea that men are the main perpetrators in sexual abuse, however I have looked into the feminist’s theory and found that 10% of sexual abusers are in fact women with victims being both female and male.
STRENGHTS AND WEAKNESSES OF THE MODELS
A weakness of the medical model is that it is seen as an ordinary disease that can be predicted, prevented and cured which is not the case because it’s not a disease and cannot be cured. Also, the model does not fit in with today’s society because children were removed from the home so their parents could stay and be given treatment to help them learn how to bond. However today, the mother/perpetrator is removed and we try to keep the child in the home. This is so that they don’t experience anymore discomfort by being transferred to different foster families or trying to fit in with other children in a children’s home etc.
The weakness of the psychological model is that it is an old model and not up to date. A disadvantage towards it is that Reite’s theory was tested on animals and can only be practiced on animals. He stated that animal’s abuse the young if there have been problems in the early mother/infant attachment. This links in with the attachment theory which is outdated, not used anymore and tested when women didn’t work in the 1950’s. The strength of the model is that ‘scapegoating’ was introduced when all aggression with behaviour is aimed with one member of the family this is most often the youngest or the weakest. Scapegoating is a very popular term and used in the majority of child abuse cases for example Shannon Matthews was the scapegoat child because she was the youngest and the most vulnerable of their family.
The sociological model is the most up to date and similar to today’s society as the reasons given for people’s actions are still around such as unemployment, poverty, poor health care, poor housing and social deprivation. It links with the political genders which are still being discussed today to eradicate poverty for example sure start centres have been placed in poverty stricken areas which work with families to help them spend more time with their children and get to meet other people in the same situation as them etc. The disadvantage of the model is that it says that people who live in poverty will abuse their children. This isn’t true as there are statistics to show that abuse happens within all social classes. This is a weakness because people are judged and discriminated from where they come and their backgrounds. For example with the Madeline McCann case millions of pounds were donated by celebrities alone whereas with the Shannon Matthews’ case donations were given from family, friends, local authorities and no celebrities gave money towards the ransom money. This is because Karen Matthews was from an estate seen to be living in poverty whereas Kate and Jerry McCann where from a middle social class with good stable jobs and were seen to be more trustworthy in the public eye.
The feminist model isn’t used very much and is difficult in today’s society because the theories brought forward are based on sexual politics which look at the power relationships among men and women, which is one sided. Since the feminist model, the roles of job descriptions have changed and both men and women are judges, barristers, social workers, part of the police force etc. which means that theory cannot be tested accurately anymore.
To conclude, the medical model puts forward the ideas of ‘battered child syndrome’ and the ‘cycle of abuse’ which are when adults who have been abused or battered then follow the cycle and abuse or batter their own children. The psychological model looks at how dysfunctions in the family can lead to abuse. The sociological model focused on how and why people live in particular conditions. This is the most up to date of the four models as it is similar to today’s society for example unemployment and poverty still occur, however it still has weaknesses as do the rest of the models. The feminist model looks at how men are the main perpetrators in sexual abuse. Three out of the four models are link together and are similar as they focus on families, though the fourth (feminist) concentrates on being against men. Recently there has been research into if children are more ‘at risk’ when they stay in the family home. When the director of Barnardo’s started he said that being in care criminalises children. He now regrets what he said and believes that more children should be in care.
When he started he said that “The reality is that these children were already damaged and potentially criminalised and I don’t believe many of them would have avoided prison if they had not been in care” (www.bbc.co.uk, 03/03/09). The concerns of children going into care are that the government think it is the preferred option as it improves stability. In the past too many children were put on the ‘at risk’ register because social workers thought it would be better and more beneficial for them to stay in the family home. Also “children have told us they want to be cared for by family and friends wherever possible” (www.bbc.co.uk 03/03/09).
However, if children are continuously being moved to different foster homes whilst the family situation is trying to be fixed then it can cause more emotional damage to the child whereas if they were living in one residential home then it would be easier for them to settle and continue with their life. Also depending on the family situation children can be at risk because their parents may have abused them in the past and there’s nothing saying that they won’t continue. Personally I agree that children should be put into care because in most cases the children’s parents can’t cope with looking after them and just let them do what they want which means that they are more likely to get caught up in trouble such as using drugs or binge drinking etc. “Around 16,000 parents a year ask the state to take their children into care”.
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