Emotional abuse Keeping children safe
It’s very difficult to identify, or prove, emotional abuse. A child can be emotionally abused for years without any obvious signs. They may not tell anyone what’s happening until they reach a 'crisis point' (Rees, 2010).
Treating a child who has been emotionally abused
Once emotional abuse been identified, then work can begin to protect the child and reduce the harmful effects they have experienced.
Treatment needs to:
- focus on the child’s safety and welfare
- identify the factors that have contributed to the emotional abuse
- address the relationships and the environment that surrounds a child
- work to reduce the impact they have on the child
- increase their resilience to the effects of future abuse.
We don’t have much evidence about what treatment works (Glaser, 2011). But there have been promising results with two of the therapeutic interventions highlighted by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University:
- Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-Up (ABC)
- Intervention and the Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care for Preschoolers
Both of these aim to promote healthy attachment and positive relationships by working with children and caregivers in intensive sessions and weekly playgroups.
Any services that help to strengthen the parent-child relationship will also help to keep children safe from emotional abuse.
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Research and resources
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2012) The science of neglect: the persistent absence of responsive care disrupts the developing brain: working paper 12 (PDF). Cambridge, MA: Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.
Doyle, C. (2001) Surviving and coping with emotional abuse in childhood. Clinical child psychology and psychiatry 6(3): 387-402.
Glaser, D. (2011) How to deal with emotional abuse and neglect: further development of a conceptual framework (FRAMEA). Child Abuse and Neglect 35(10): 866–875.
Landreth, G. (2002) Play therapy: the art of the relationship. New York; Hove, East Sussex: Brunner-Routledge.
Rees, C. A. (2010) Understanding emotional abuse. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 95(1):59-67.