Guide Legal Issues in Child Abuse and Neglect Practice

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Some projects involve only limited contact with research subjects, such as reviews of report records. Survey projects may be done in an anonymous fashion or with identifying information provided for follow-up interviews and evaluations. Some projects require more extensive interactions, and possible interventions, with parents and children. Some studies may raise only one or another ethical or legal issue; some may raise all of them. Projects that involve large numbers of research subjects, whose behavior is studied in the home over extensive periods of time, are more likely to contain a wider range of difficult ethical and legal issues than those that involve small study samples requiring only minimal interactions between the investigator and subject in an institutional setting.

Many ethical issues arise in the course of human subjects research, some of which have special relevance for studies of child maltreatment. Five issues that deserve special attention include: 1 the recruitment of research subjects; 2 informed consent and deception; 3 assignment of subjects to experimental or control programs; 4 issues of privacy, confidentiality, and autonomy; and 5 debriefing or desensitizing of research subjects following research procedures that involve deception or significant stress.

Investigators often have difficulty identifying and recruiting large and representative groups of subjects, especially when investigating controversial or low-base-rate phenomena. Scientists are thus dependent on various institutions and personnel for the assessment and recruitment of appropriate subjects. Potential subjects for child maltreatment research may be referred by family service programs prior to or following a report of child abuse and neglect, or they may be selected from case reports by child protective service or child welfare officials.

Since case workers often identify and recruit potential subjects, the nature of the relationships among the scientific investigator, the case worker, and the research subject in child maltreatment studies deserves special consideration. Researchers generally are familiar with the requirements of voluntarism in human subjects research, but they are often not present when potential subjects are recruited for their project.

Many child welfare agencies have a less than ideal clinical relationship with the parents of abused or neglected children Bradley and Lindsay, The status of these research subjects, many of whom may be under investigation or involved in legal pro-. Potential subjects may be told, or may incorrectly believe, that participation in the research will be beneficial to their family or may mitigate severe penalties such as the removal of their children. As a result, elements of real or perceived coercion may exist in a subject's initial agreement to volunteer for the research.

A second issue to consider in subject recruitment is the offering of monetary payments or desired goods in return for research participation. A modest financial stipend is generally appropriate to cover the inconvenience and transportation costs incurred by a participant in a research study Bradley and Lindsay, However, large sums may be coercive, especially for low-income participants Keith-Spiegel and Koocher, ; Koocher and Keith-Spiegel, The American Psychological Association guidelines for research indicate that subjects must be informed of their right to terminate their participation without forfeiting their honoraria American Psychological Association, ; Bradley and Lindsay, Instead of monetary stipends, some investigators offer such items as videotapes of the subjects' children, small household appliances, and toys for the children as incentives for participation, a practice that has not been discussed in professional research guidelines.

One of the most difficult ethical issues to resolve in child maltreatment studies is the extent to which the true purpose of the research project is disclosed to and discussed with the subject or parent. As noted by Bradley and Lindsay , in all areas of human research scientists must walk a fine line between protection of their subjects and procedures designed to enhance the validity and merit of scientific results. The social stigma and legal consequences of child abuse and neglect, as well as the possible ramifications for individuals and their families, require a careful review of fundamental principles that should guide responsible research practice in this area.

Researchers typically believe that full disclosure of the purpose of a child maltreatment study would limit participation to admitted abusers, a procedure that would severely curtail the strength and scope of their research.

Subjects therefore might be told that they are participating in a study of "families or children with problems" or "ways that families punish children who misbehave. In some cases, prospective subjects may be told that some information is being withheld deliberately Levine, The withheld information may involve the purpose of the entire study or the nature of some methods used in the study. Many scientists believe that subjects should never be deliberately deceived about the nature of the study, but the deliberate withholding of information may be necessary to maintain the validity of the study.

In cases in which information is deliberately withheld, professional guidelines have urged that disclosure should be given dehoaxing at the conclusion of the subject's participation and the subject should be returned to a good state of mind about the experience desensitizing American Psychological Association, ; Holmes, a,b; Sieber, b. However, dehoaxing is sometimes harmful, and desensitizing is sometimes impossible. Deception research has profound implications, since it may carry over into relationships of the subjects with their own family members as well as with clinicians, social workers, law enforcement personnel, and so forth.

For example, parents who are presented with photos in which their child appears to be misbehaving such as destroying a toy or scribbling on a wall may conclude that their child is "bad" or may feel that prior negative perceptions of their child have been confirmed Bradley and Lindsay, Such research practices may be uncommon, but they can affect other areas of deceptive research if inadequate safeguards are in place.

The methods of obtaining consent and parental permission are also important to consider. The consent form itself is the legal record documenting that such a discussion has occurred. Studies of college students often rely on written consent forms, but such instruments may be poorly suited to studies of populations that are younger, undereducated, underserved, or have learning disabilities. When subjects have literacy problems, or when English is not their primary language, face-to-face methods with orally presented information about the research can facilitate the consent process.

Similar problems can arise in the course of asking questions in the research process, particularly if written self-report measures are employed. In some cases, the researcher presents the entire procedure in the subjects' native language s , sometimes assisted by translators.

Studies that focus on particular ethnic groups must adapt their instruments to the traditional practices of that group. Appropriate comparative groups should be employed to distinguish maltreatment from cultural practice as well as to identify cultural practices that may contribute to maltreatment. Although such approaches may successfully resolve many ethical problems in experimental design, they present particular responsibilities for the investigator to fully debrief the research subjects.

The issue of mandatory reporting is important to consider in the process of identifying informed consent see the section on mandatory reporting requirements in Chapter 3. When issues of privacy and confidentiality are discussed in the informed consent procedure, a statement such as the following might be included and explained carefully: 3.

What is discussed during our session will be kept confidential with two exceptions: I am compelled by law to inform an appropriate other person if I hear and believe that you are in danger of hurting yourself or someone else, or if there is reasonable suspicion that a child, elder, or dependent adult has been abused. An important ethical issue that arises in many human subject studies is the ethical acceptability of randomly assigning research participants to experimental and control treatment groups.

Although random assignment is essential to scientific validity, it may be ethically impermissible if it means that a potentially life-saving or therapeutic intervention is withheld from the research subject. This issue is particularly complex when a given intervention is thought to be sufficiently effective that withholding it may constitute inhumane treatment Kaufman and Zigler, Indeed, it may be unethical to select any group of abused children for a control sample in which children would not have access to possibly therapeutic services.

But modifications of experimental designs can resolve dilemmas between beneficence and requirements for scientific validity Kaufman and Zigler, Such modifications include treatment partitioning, in which control subjects are randomly assigned to alternative treatment programs; "waiting list" controls, which make use of the often significant time lag in gaining access to a treatment program or after its discontinuance; or selecting control subjects from nearby or comparable communities that do not have access to service programs Cook and Campbell, ; Seitz, The National Institutes of Health has issued policy statements for inclusion of minorities and women in research, which should be considered in the development of child maltreatment studies National Institutes of Health, Ethnic and social class representation should also be considered in the assignment of research subjects to experimental and control groups.

Race has often been used as a grouping variable but it has less value than charac-. These latter variables often are stronger influences on attitudes and practices that are transmitted intergenerationally. The terms black or Hispanic are more political concepts than terms that accurately reflect the heritage or nationality of groups that vary by culture, national origin, and other factors Wyatt, Sociocultural studies of child maltreatment often need to consider the immigration status of research subjects, their generational status, the extent of their acculturation, and household density.

A more flexible typology is needed to identify or "unpack" critical group variables that influence behaviors and relationships. Important differences within and between ethnic groups that reflect their sociocultural experience cannot be ignored in their assignments to control or comparison groups in scientific studies. Throughout the research project, issues of privacy, confidentiality, and autonomy may arise.

Guidelines should be prepared prior to interviews or observational studies regarding the conditions under which a researcher will divulge to parents or guardians details about the child's behavior. Parents may wish to know details about the sexual behavior of their child.

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Parents may also have attitudes about certain child behaviors such as thumb-sucking, bedwetting, and masturbation that differ significantly from those of the research investigator. Parental perceptions of risks and benefits may also differ from those of the researcher. Researchers may be reluctant to disclose information revealed by the child in any case, but particularly when the parent appears to be hostile, punitive, or acting not in the best interests of the child. The AIDS epidemic has given new force to many of these dilemmas. The growing number of cases of HIV transmission as a result of child sexual abuse, for example, raises special issues of reporting, criminal proceedings, and the possibility of discrimination based on HIV status.

Another issue that affects privacy and confidentiality is data sharing, particularly when large sets of social behavior data collected for one study such as alcoholism are subsequently used by other researchers for studies on child maltreatment. The issues of data sharing in the use of public records are sufficiently complex that they are the focus of a separate National Research Council study Duncan et al.

As in the area of recruitment of research subjects, research reports of child maltreatment studies rarely describe procedures used at the end of the project; either debriefings do not occur, or they are not considered impor-. Holmes a,b has provided a useful, though dated, outline of the depth of debriefing required in deceptive research, an approach that has substantial application in the field of maltreatment studies even if deception is not present.

Debriefing subjects in a post-project interview may strengthen the research study by identifying misclassified subjects Adair et al. Post-project discussions and follow-up meetings also provide opportunities for the researcher to convey useful information and insight to parents and children about practices, such as discipline, that might improve their lives. The validity of scientific research takes on special relevance in studies of children and other vulnerable populations, when research results are likely to influence social policy and public perceptions of the problem under study Sieber, a.

Information that scientists disseminate about child victimization is often socially and politically sensitive and can affect both parental and professional behavior as well as public policy. Scientific information, communicated through the popular media, can influence the manner in which abusive parents view abuse, and the ways in which victims view themselves. High-quality research is needed to provide information that has a factual, scientific basis, rather than information based on conjecture or opinion. Because validity is important but hard to achieve in research on children and families, factors that affect validity are receiving increased attention.

These factors include the definitions of child maltreatment, instrumentation and research methods, selection of subject samples, collection of data, interpretation of findings, and safeguards for ensuring privacy, confidentiality, and reliability in the research study. Child maltreatment research often involves retrospective study of reported cases, an approach that provides a convenient, but often limited, assessment of basic psychological and ecological factors that influence the development of child victimization.

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In contrast, multivariate longitudinal studies of large populations that include abused as well as nonabused children are presumed to provide more valid and generalizable conclusions, as long as appropriate methods are employed Weis, ; Widom, Such studies require greater resources, time, and effort not only from investigators and participants but also from institutions and service personnel.

Large prospective studies also expose greater numbers of children, families, and researchers to risks and uncertainties associated with observations of sensitive family behavior over extensive periods of time.

Child abuse and neglect: ethical issues.

A related issue of validity is associated with the reliability of child reports and testimony. As noted in previous chapters, the accuracy and veracity of child reports and the validity of psychological measures purporting to reveal incidents of abuse or neglect remain unresolved issues. The issue of the reliability of adult memories of childhood abuse, in particular, remains controversial.

One major methodological problem associated with studies of child abuse and neglect is how to get a sample of young children to talk candidly about abuse and attempted abuse, especially abuse involving sexual behavior Finkelhor and Strapko, Depending on the children's social context, their level of maturity and quality of interactions with peers and other families, and so forth, many children may not be able to identify certain forms of abusive behavior or to perceive it as such.

Adult survivors may not recall incidents of abuse that occurred during their childhood, even if the investigator has obtained records that document such experiences. Children, or their parents, may be unwilling to discuss incidents that are personally embarrassing, violent, or stressful, especially if they believe that they were responsible for these incidents or that discussion of the incidents will cause harm to family members, not change their interactions with the offender, and not prevent future such incidents.

Exaggeration, manipulation, and distortion of the circumstances of the abuse experience, expecially in retrospective studies, are also possibilities.

Child abuse

Interviews in which researchers or therapists have been viewed as manipulating children into disclosing incidents of abuse that did not actually occur has generated much discussion about the roles and responsibilities of professionals in this field. Such concern has resulted in symposia and articles about the boundaries of appropriate professional behavior in conducting interviews with children about incidents of abuse and neglect, especially in cases in which no report of abuse has been filed. Many investigators seem to be able to conduct intensive interviews with children about these matters successfully, but several ethical issues require consideration in this research.

As identified by Finkelhor and Strapko , these issues include: 1 whether and how to get parental permission to conduct such interviews; 2 how to handle state reporting requirements, especially when research interviews reveal abusive or neglectful practices that do not appear to harm the children and that the children do not wish to disclose; and 3 how to reduce the trauma of the interview itself. Such issues are particularly important to address and resolve in developing prevention efforts so that unintended consequences may be avoided.

Research evaluations, especially in the area of child sexual abuse, have suggested that some prevention programs such as the "good touch, bad touch" educational programs may not diminish child maltreatment, often stimulate greater disclosure of abuse reports among the child participants, and may have unintended long-term consequences on adult sexual behavior such as distrust of physical or sexual intimacy that have not been carefully considered in the development of the program Conte, In addition to these ethical issues, legal considerations may affect the validity of child maltreatment research.

For example, who is authorized to give permission for a child to participate in a study of child abuse and neglect if the parent is the alleged perpetrator or cooperated with the abusing parent? Do individual parties have a right of access to information disclosed in the course of a research study if the information is pertinent to a case that is in litigation or that may be appealed?

Research on child maltreatment receives much public attention because it affects children and adults directly and shapes norms and perceptions that can influence policy directives much more rapidly than research in fields of study more distant from everyday human activity Sieber, a. Research on human behavior often involves unique subject populations that cannot be replicated.

As such it is far more politically and socially sensitive than research in the physical sciences, in which controversial or uncertain research findings can often be tested by replication. Thus, breakthroughs in the physical sciences are far easier to verify, but also far more difficult to discuss or interpret without specialized training. They are more likely to be discussed in the media only when significant scientific generalizations or exorbitant research costs have been achieved that are understandable to the public.

Public misinterpretation or misunderstanding of physical sciences research findings, even if it occurs, rarely has immediate social consequences. Problems can arise when misinformation about child abuse and neglect is disseminated to the general public. Such problems are particularly significant when members of the research community are the initial sources of reports of invalid research results on child maltreatment.

Unconfirmed or inaccurate research findings may also be publicized by the press against the advice or wishes of the researchers. Such incidents can result in vigorous, often sensational, discussions in media and social policy circles. Scientific studies of child maltreatment require extraordinary care and confidentiality in eliciting, safeguarding, and disclosing information from.

Family disciplinary practices, the use of violence between family members, and expressions of anger or rage are difficult to detect, observe, and record. Research on children's sexual development is one of the most unexamined areas in all of social science and is impeded by a variety of social taboos Finkelhor and Strapko, ; Furstenberg et al.

Political sensitivities have impeded governmental support for studies of sexual behavior in general and discussions of sexual behavior with children in particular. Ethical ambiguities surround this topic. Unlike priests, physicians, and lawyers, social scientists are not traditionally entitled to testimonial privilege. Scientists do not have an unrestricted right to determine whether to reveal to a law enforcement officer or a court official the identity of their research subjects or the nature or sources of their information.

Field researchers who conduct studies of criminal behavior or socially sensitive behavior may be subject to legal interventions when data are thought to be relevant to cases that are in litigation or are under judicial or legislative review Myers, The certificate of confidentiality is the most effective, yet underutilized, protection against subpoena. Researchers involved in socially sensitive studies also have sometimes relied on anonymous data collection, the use of aliases, transmission of data to colleagues in foreign countries, and statistical strategies as ways of guarding the confidentiality of their data Sieber, b.

To simultaneously achieve both goals may not be possible, resulting in an ethical dilemma regarding the obligations of professionals. One of the ways of reducing this dilemma is for professionals to work as a team, where joint decision making and collaborative work may produce the best results for child victims. This entry not only addresses the ethical conflict and professional codes involved with interviewing child victims but also describes forensic interviews and discusses the role of child advocacy centers. Ethical Dilemma Social work and legal ethics may be in conflict when the matter at hand is interviewing child victims, because of different goals of the social service and criminal justice systems.

In , approximately 3 million children were reported to child abuse and neglect hotlines across the United States. Approximately 87, children were determined to be victims of abuse or neglect. When a report suggests serious injury due to physical abuse, sexual abuse, or severe neglect, some states require that a district attorney decide whether a prosecutor or child protective services worker will oversee the investigation. Legal and ethical implications follow from this decision, because social workers, unless they are working for a prosecutor as a forensic specialist, and law enforcement personnel have different objectives.

Social workers are concerned mainly with providing services to ameliorate the effects of victimization and to rehabilitate families; law enforcement personnel and forensic social workers are concerned with acquiring information to aid in the apprehension and punishment of offenders. New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria that allows for a diversionary pathway in place of a criminal justice response El-Murr, In some jurisdictions young people who have been found guilty of a child sexual abuse offence may be included on the sex offender register Victorian Law Reform Commission VLRC , Research suggests that sibling sexual abuse occurs at similar or higher rates to other types of intra-familial sexual abuse Quadara et al.

This type of sexual abuse is when there is sexual activity between a child or young person and a sibling that is non-consensual or coercive, or where there is an inequality of power or development between them. As stated above, there is civil child protection legislation in some Australian jurisdictions to enable therapeutic treatment for these children and young people in place of a criminal justice response.

In other jurisdictions the question of whether there will be criminal justice intervention will depend on the age of the children and the nature of the offence El-Murr, Although consensual and apparently non-coercive sexual behaviour between similarly aged siblings may not be considered child sexual abuse, it is considered problematic and harmful, and professional intervention should be sought.

Online child sexual abuse can cause additional harm to children and young people beyond the abusive experience itself Quayle, Due to digital technology, offenders are able to take photos and videos of children and young people being sexually abused with little cost or effort, and often in the privacy of their own homes Broughton, They are then able to communicate with other offenders via the internet and distribute their material online. These photos and videos are a permanent product of the abuse. They may resurface at any time and this leaves victims with a lifelong fear of exposure, exacerbating the damage Broughton, ; Quayle, Offenders often use these images to manipulate victims into silence by threatening exposure should the child or young person ever talk about the abuse Broughton, Online child sexual abuse may also involve sexting sending messages with sexual photos or videos via a mobile phone or posting online Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council, A decision about whether or not sexting constitutes child sexual abuse will depend on the particulars of the situation, including the ages of the children and young people involved.

Sexting laws differ across Australian jurisdictions. For example, in Victoria it is a criminal offence for someone over the age of 18 years to send an image of someone who is under the age of 18 years posing in an indecent sexual manner to a third party, even if the child or young person has given consent Victoria Legal Aid, Civil child protection legislation provides protection for children and young people who are or who are likely to be victims of online child sexual abuse. This may, for example, involve statutory child protection authorities intervening to protect a child whose parent has accessed child exploitation material on the internet.

Online child sexual abuse and child exploitation material offences over the internet are international crimes constituting a global problem Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council, Online child sexual offences are dealt with in Commonwealth and jurisdictional criminal legislation. These laws cover access, possession, distribution and the making of material. Although there are definitional differences across jurisdictions, all Australian jurisdictions agree that such activities and materials must be criminalised Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council, In Australia, the individual states and territories have their own unique sets of laws that criminalise all forms of commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Although there are differences in how it is defined across jurisdictions, there is an overall commitment to working with other governments domestic and international to prevent commercial child sexual exploitation, to prosecute perpetrators and to protect victims Cameron et al. For example, in Australia the sexual exploitation of children in the context of tourism offences have been in place since In the laws were reformed to broaden the scope of criminalised activities and increase penalties. The Australian Federal Police are active in their efforts to protect children in foreign countries and to prosecute child sex offenders in the context of tourism.

There have been a number of successful prosecutions of Australians involved in these crimes Johnson, Children and young people are often a hidden population within the family violence literature and discourse. Richards , p. Family violence commonly occurs with inter-related problems such as drug and alcohol misuse and mental illness. It is normally dealt with under the category of emotional and psychological abuse.

However, in some jurisdictions e. As well as the five main subtypes of child abuse and neglect, researchers have identified other types, including:. Although it is useful to distinguish between the different subtypes of child abuse and neglect in order to understand and identify them more thoroughly, it can also be slightly misleading. It is misleading if it creates the impression that there are always strong lines of demarcation between the different abuse subtypes, or that abuse subtypes usually occur in isolation.

Goddard and Bedi , p.

Child Abuse, Neglect, and Domestic Violence: Dispelling the Myths, Enhancing Practice

Cultural differences, questions about thresholds at what point is the child experiencing significant harm? In order to make appropriate determinations about whether a child is or is not being abused it is important that professionals in all parts of the service system know the relevant laws and research findings, that they value and practice interdisciplinary work, and that their assessments and decisions are informed by the voices and experiences of children, young people and families. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child also defines a child as any human under the age of 18 years United Nations, The terms used in this resource sheet have been chosen because they better reflect the fact that the child is a victim of abuse and exploitation Interagency Working Group in Luxembourg, Copyright information.

This paper aims to provide a broad overview of child neglect, one of the most common forms of maltreatment. A practical guide for organisations, professionals and any other person responding to children and young people disclosing abuse. Information on how to report suspected child abuse and neglect, including key contacts in each state and territory. CFCA offers a free research and information helpdesk for child, family and community welfare practitioners, service providers, researchers and policy makers through the CFCA News.

Google Tag Manager. What is child abuse and neglect? If you believe a child is in immediate danger call Police on Overview The purpose of this resource sheet is to provide practitioners, policy makers and researchers with a working definition of child abuse and neglect. Introduction For individuals working with children, it is important to be able to recognise child abuse and neglect when they come across it.

There are two legal systems set up to respond to and prevent child abuse and neglect ALRC, ; Plum, : the civil legal system the criminal legal system.