Obsession with smacking misses real issues of abuse

From the Sydney Morning Herald today, a study gives more evidence that our obsession with smacking has meant that we’ve avoided the bigger picture of child abuse and the real causes and effects

Child neglect can be just as harmful to children’s cognitive development as physical and sexual abuse, a new study shows. But child protection authorities do not treat neglect with the same urgency as other forms of child maltreatment.

The study of almost 4000 children aged 14 revealed that those with a history of reported abuse or neglect scored on average three IQ points lower than children who had not been maltreated. And the children who had been neglected did just as poorly as children with a history of physical or sexual abuse.

Ryan Mills, a paediatrician and co-author of the study, said child protection systems struggled to deal with chronic cases of neglect. ”But neglect needs to be given equal attention because its long-term effects are at least as severe as physical or sexual abuse,” he said.

…The research drew upon data from the Mater-University study of pregnancy – a longitudinal study of more than 7000 mothers and their children born at Brisbane’s Mater Hospital from 1981 to 1983. The study involved confidentially linking allegations of maltreatment reported to the Department of Families, Youth and Community Care in Queensland with the children in the hospital database.

An earlier study by Dr Mills of the same group showed that chronic neglect was even more deleterious than sexual abuse on the psychological health of children. ”The adverse cognitive outcomes indicate children are not getting adequate stimulation or attention to their developmental needs,” Dr Mills said.