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Caring for Abused or Neglected Children
Caring for Abused or Neglected Children

If children are not able to live safely with their parents, the next best place for them to be is in the home of a loving, stable person close to their family.  Any child who is unable to stay with their parents has experienced trauma.  Currently, many children living with kin have one or both parents who may abuse drugs or alcohol.  This may have caused other issues in the home, such as violence, mental health concerns, lack of supervision, or food insecurities. As a result, the children in your care may need special help to grow and thrive.

It is important to note that each child’s reaction or response to the loss depends on:

  • The significance of the loss
  • Whether the loss is temporary or permanent
  • Inherent coping abilities of the child
  • Availability of supports
  • Age and cognitive abilities of the child

Consequently, while some children may react in very extreme ways, others may respond mildly or not at all. In addition, one child may be affected in one area while another child may be affected in another area. Below is a list of common thoughts and feelings that children in your care may be dealing with throughout their time with you.

Grief

When children have been separated from significant figures in their lives, their emotional response is one of grief and mourning. There are five identifiable stages of grief: shock/denial, anger/rage, bargaining, depression and resolution/understanding.

Control

Many children who have experienced a loss feel that they have no control over their lives. Consequently, they may try to regain control by being orderly, compulsive, routine-focused or planning ahead. Other youth may demonstrate their need for control via power struggles with authority figures, truancy, defiance, substance abuse or tantrums.

Loyalty

Having two sets of parental figures could create internal conflict for any child. The child may be afraid to show love and affection toward their kinship caregivers because they do not want to hurt their parents’ feelings or seem disloyal. Because of these divided loyalties, children may feel anxiety and act out in ways that you do not approve of. 

Rejection/Fear of Abandonment

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the child’s loss, the child may feel that s/he was rejected and abandoned by the birth family. To avoid the risk of that happening again, some children may not allow themselves to get close to others.  They may act out to try to force their caregivers to give up on trying to care for them.  Some children may react differently, by continually seeking acceptance and approval from everyone around them.

Self-Esteem

The perception of being rejected is a direct blow to a child’s self-esteem. They may feel unwanted, that there must be something wrong with them. School performance and self-confidence may suffer.

Trust

This is a particularly crucial issue for children who have had multiple moves during their young lives. Separations at an early age may make it difficult for them to trust in relationships and become attached to their new caregivers, even if it is someone they have known a long time.

Identity

The lack of information and secrecy that often surround a child’s history and birth family can make it difficult for the child to establish their own identity, a major task for all children during adolescent development. The child may be confused, scared, and frustrated by everything going on around them.

Not all children will experience all of these issues. Some may experience minor difficulties at different developmental stages that may be handled successfully by the kinship caregiver or with the help of a professional. It is recommended that kinship caregivers experiencing these issues seek out supportive services that can address each child’s specific needs.

Common Signs of Physical Abuse

In addition to the internal characteristics of abuse or neglect discussed above, there are also external signs of abuse and neglect, such as:

  • Inflicted bruises such as human hand marks, human bite marks or strap marks.
  • Inflicted burns such as cigarette burns, match tip or incense burns, branding burns, or scalding.
  • Inflicted retinal hemorrhages or subdural hematomas—a form of traumatic brain injury—caused by direct blows or violent shaking resulting in skull fractures.
  • Inflicted head injuries such as subdural hematomas, scalp bruises or black eyes.
  • Inflicted abdominal injuries such as ruptured liver or spleen, ruptured blood vessels, or injury to kidneys.
  • Inflicted bone injuries such as fractures at different stages of healing, repeated fractures to the same site or unusual fractures such as those to the ribs.
  • Underfeeding resulting in an underweight condition, failure to gain weight or ravenous appetite

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