KY: Domestic ViolencePage 7 of 17

5. Child Abuse

Intimate partner violence is often associated with the abuse of children. This is an important public health issue because witnessing violence in the home as a child is a strong risk factor for involvement in abusive relationships as an adult. In addition, experiencing abuse as a child has been associated with other risk factors such as depression, substance abuse, poor school performance, and high-risk sexual activity (CDC, 2016a, 2014a; KCADV, 2014b).

The federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) defines child abuse and neglect as, at minimum:

  • Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or
  • An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2013, n.d.)

This definition of child abuse and neglect refers specifically to parents and other caregivers. A child under this definition generally means a person who is under the age of 18 or who is not an emancipated minor (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2013, n.d.).

CAPTA provides definitions for sexual abuse and the special cases related to withholding or failing to provide medically indicated treatment but does not provide specific definitions for other types of maltreatment such as physical abuse, neglect, or emotional abuse. While federal legislation sets minimum standards, each state is responsible for providing its own definition of maltreatment within its civil and criminal laws (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2013, n.d.).

In Kentucky, abused or neglected child means a child whose health or welfare is harmed or threatened with harm when his or her parent, guardian, or other person exercising custodial control or supervision:

  • Inflicts or allows to be inflicted upon the child physical or emotional injury by other than accidental means
  • Creates or allows to be created a risk of physical or emotional injury to the child by other than accidental means

Physical injury means substantial physical pain or any impairment of physical condition.

Serious physical injury means physical injury that creates a substantial risk of death, or causes serious and prolonged disfigurement, prolonged impairment of health, or prolonged loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ (Child Welfare Information Gateway, n.d.-2; KRS 600.020).

Domestic Violence and Child Maltreatment

Children exposed to domestic violence may be the victims of co-occurring maltreatment. In particular, domestic violence is a significant risk factor for verbal abuse, physical punishment, and physical abuse of children. Although high rates of co-occurring domestic violence and child maltreatment have been noted in the general population, this co-occurrence has most commonly been investigated in clinical samples of abused women and of physically abused children, with the majority of studies indicating rates of co-occurrence ranging from 30% to 60% (Kelleher, 2006).

There is evidence that children who are exposed to domestic violence and also experience maltreatment are at risk for poor development. There also is a growing concern that children’s exposure to domestic violence constitutes a type of psychological or emotional abuse in and of itself (Kelleher, 2006).

Although domestic violence and child maltreatment commonly occur together, policy makers and planners of services lack a nationally representative study that examines the prevalence of this co-occurrence. Equally important is the need for information on state and local policies and practices around services for families with co-occurring domestic violence and child maltreatment (Kelleher, 2006; NIJ, 2011).

Domestic Violence and the Child Welfare System

Domestic violence is a significant problem for 30% to 40% of families in the child welfare system. Because co-occurring domestic violence and child maltreatment are so prevalent, many communities have implemented policies and practices to protect women and children from domestic violence, and to provide services, especially as they relate to interactions with the child welfare system. Many of these initiatives have arisen out of local advocacy through domestic violence centers and services, while others come from national movements promulgated by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, such as its Model Code or its more recent policy and practice recommendations, sometimes referred to as the Greenbook (Kelleher, 2006; NIJ, 2011).

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