People who physically abuse children tend to have the following needs :
- A need for personal support and nurturance.
- A need to overcome isolation and establish social contacts.
- A need to learn appropriate parenting skills.
- A need to improve self-esteem.
Parents who neglect their children appear to have characteristics similar to physically abusive parents, although poverty is also “highly correlated with neglect”. “The typical neglectful parent is an isolated individual who has difficulty forming relationships or carrying out the routine tasks of every- day life. ”. This description, in some ways, resembles the description of the physically abusive parent. However, an abuser lashes out, whereas a neglectful parent tends to withdraw and fails to provide adequately for children.
Crooks and Baur (2008 ) describe people who sexually abuse children: No clear-cut description characterizes perpetrators of sexual abuse “other than that most are male and are known to the victim. . . . Child molesters cover the spectrum of social class, educational achievement, intelligence, occupation, religion, and ethnicity. Evidence suggests that many. . . . offenders, especially those who are prosecuted, are shy, lonely, [and] poorly informed about sexuality. . . . Many are likely to have poor interpersonal and sexual relations with other adults, and may feel socially inade- quate and inferior. However, it is not uncommon to encounter [offenders]. . . . outside the legal system who are well educated, socially adept, civic-minded, and financially successful”. Other possible characteristics include “alcoholism, severe marital problems, sexual difficulties, and poor emotional adjustment”.
Crosson-Tower (2008) adds that “many collect pornography” and that they tend to be highly “manipulative” in order to gain the power and control over others (such as children) they feel they lack. Many perpetrators were sexually abused themselves in child- hood. Miller-Perrin and Perrin (2007) describe some of the characteristics of parents who emotionally maltreat their children:
Such parents, compared with nonabusive parents, appear to exhibit more difficulties with interpersonal and social interactions, problem solving, and psychiatric adjustment. . . . Emotionally abusive parents had more difficulty building relationships, exhibited poor coping skills, and displayed deficits in child management techniques. In addition, emotionally abusive mothers demonstrated a lack of support networks (both personal and community) as well as greater levels of perceived stress, marital discord, and alcohol and drug use.
Karen K. Kirst-Ashman has been a full professor and former chairperson in the Social Work Department at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater, where she has taught for 28 years. She earned her BSW degree in 1972 and MSSW in 1973 at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and her Ph.D. in Social Work at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. She is the author of six social work textbooks and numerous publications, articles, and reviews concerning social work and women’s issues, and has served as a consulting editor for many social work journals. She was a board member of CSWE from 1998 through 2001 and has served as a member of several CSWE accreditation site teams. She is also certified as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the State of Wisconsin.