Psychological Issues Related to Child Abuse and Neglect

WHEREAS the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect has declared the problem of child maltreatment to have reached the level of a national emergency;

WHEREAS reports of child maltreatment have arisen faster than the child protective system's capacity to provide adequate and timely investigations in response to such reports in some states;

WHEREAS child abuse (including physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse) and neglect communicate disrespect for the dignity of children as persons;

WHEREAS such degrading practices often impede the development of children and foster psychological harm;

WHEREAS abused and neglected children often are not provided with treatment that may alleviate such harm and that may prevent further ill effects;

WHEREAS substantial gaps remain in knowledge about (a) the precipitants and etiology of child abuse and neglect, (b) the factors affecting legal and clinical decision making in such cases, and (c) the efficacy of various programs to prevent child maltreatment, alleviate its effects, build positive relationships in families in which child maltreatment has occurred, or ensure the safety of children in families where maltreatment is known or suspected to have occurred;

WHEREAS preventive interventions of documented efficacy (e.g., home visitation services during infancy) seldom have been instituted on a broad scale;

WHEREAS basic knowledge about the phenomenon of child maltreatment (e.g., the relationship between neighborhood stability and maltreatment rates) rarely has been systematically applied to the development and implementation of comprehensive preventive and therapeutic services for families in which child abuse or neglect is at risk of occurring or has already occurred;

WHEREAS policies intended to promote child protection (e.g., laws to permit special procedures in criminal child abuse cases) seldom have been evaluated;

WHEREAS the complex conflicts of interests and values present in many child maltreatment cases create needs for special training of psychologists and other professionals involved in such cases;

WHEREAS the development and application of knowledge about child maltreatment have been impeded by critical shortages of qualified researchers and mental health practitioners specializing in work on the topic;

WHEREAS the federal government generally has failed to provide adequate leadership in the development and application of knowledge about child abuse and neglect;

WHEREAS state and federal governments sometimes have failed to ensure the safety even of those children who are in the care of the state;

WHEREAS psychologists have ethical duties to promote human dignity and welfare;

WHEREAS the American Psychological Association (APA) has expressed its support for the principles embodied in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child; and

WHEREAS the APA Board of Directors has accepted the report of its ad hoc Committee on Child Abuse Policy, which encouraged the development of specific policies and actions to assist psychologists in their work with maltreated children and their families;

BE IT RESOLVED that the Council of Representatives of the APA finds and declares that the development of a national strategy to prevent and treat child abuse and neglect is a matter of the highest urgency, and that psychologists can and should contribute substantially to such a national effort.

THEREFORE BE IT ENACTED that the Council of Representatives directs the Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer to undertake an immediate initiative to apply the science and profession of psychology to the development and implementation of a national strategy for the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect.

(1) Such an initiative shall be of high priority and shall include but not be limited to:

(a) The establishment of a staff working group, including representatives of each Directorate and the Public Affairs Office, for the purposes of

(i) dissemination of psychological knowledge about child abuse and neglect to the public, the state associations, and the divisions;


(ii) promotion of the enactment of public policies consistent with this resolution; and

(iii) coordination with the associations of scientists and professionals in other disciplines concerned with the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect;


(b) The establishment of task forces of authorities in the field in order:

(i) to review scientific knowledge about prevention of child abuse and neglect, treatment of abused and neglected children, treatment of perpetrators of child abuse and neglect, and effects of federal and state law related to child abuse and neglect;

(ii) to identify critical gaps in knowledge about child maltreatment; and

(iii) to suggest initiatives to enhance the state of knowledge;

(c) A public relations campaign to communicate the results of such scholarly reviews to the general public and federal and state policy makers;p>

(d) A review by the Committee for the Protection of Human Participants in Research (CPHPR), in collaboration with relevant divisions and leading individual scientists, of legal, political, and ethical barriers to research on child maltreatment, and development of recommendations by CPHPR as needed to remove such barriers;

(e) A review by the Board of Scientific Affairs and the Board of Educational Affairs, in collaboration with relevant divisions, of human resource needs in psychological research on child abuse and neglect, and development of recommendations for fulfillment of unmet needs;

(f) Upon the completion of the work of each task force established pursuant to Section 1(b) of this act, the establishment of a task force to consider the "state of the art" in the relevant area of practice, to identify priorities for development or reform of programs, and, as needed, to develop recommendations for development or reform of graduate and continuing education programs;

(g) A review by the Board of Professional Affairs and the Board of Educational Affairs, in collaboration with relevant divisions, of human resource needs in psychological practice on child abuse and neglect, and development of recommendations for fulfillment of unmet needs;

(h) Public education and lobbying to promote the development of federal, state, and private initiatives for research and programs consistent with the priorities identified through activities conducted pursuant to Sections 1(b), 1(d), 1(e), 1(f), and 1(g) of this act; and

(i) No later than 1992, a miniconvention on child abuse and neglect at the annual meeting of the Association, to be planned and implemented by the Board of Convention Affairs in collaboration with relevant divisions.

(2) In all activities conducted pursuant to this act, due consideration shall be given to cultural differences and the interests of ethnic-minority children and families.

(3) In all activities conducted pursuant to this act, due consideration shall be given to the relation of child maltreatment to other social issues, including the status of children, the status of women, the status of ethnic minorities, the needs of children with handicapping conditions and disabilities, the effects of poverty, the welfare of families, and cultural beliefs about violence.

(4) The Board of Directors may delegate the establishment of a given task force to fulfill a requirement of Section 1(b) or 1(f) to one or more divisions with expertise on the topic. Such delegation shall occur only with approval of the division(s) involved. In any such collaboration, the Association and the division(s) may share the costs incurred by any task force so established.

(5) Notwithstanding the provisions in Section 4, the divisions and the state associations are encouraged to establish their own initiatives to reduce the prevalence of child maltreatment and to ameliorate its effects. The Office of Divisional Affairs and the Office of State Association Affairs shall assist in the development of such initiatives.

(6) For activities conducted pursuant to this act in 1990, $12,000 is hereby appropriated from the Council of Representatives contingency fund. The Finance Committee and the Board of Directors shall include funds for such activities in annual budgets of the Association at least until 1995.

(7) The Board of Directors shall establish timelines for completion of activities pursuant to this act.

(8) The Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer shall report to the Council of Representatives at each meeting about progress made in the implementation of this act.

(9) The Board of Directors shall appoint a five (5) member Ad Hoc Coordinating Committee comprised of individuals representing the interests and concerns of the science, practice, education, and public interest communities. The primary purpose of the Ad Hoc Coordinating Committee will be to develop an integrated and cohesive plan to guide APA policy and activities related to child abuse and neglect. To this end, the Ad Hoc Coordinating Committee will be charged with the oversight, coordination, and implementation of the recommendations from the report of the Board of Directors' Ad Hoc Committee on Child Abuse Policy (presented to the Board of Directors 12/1/89) and the activities outlined in this resolution. The Ad Hoc Coordinating Committee will be staffed out of the APA Executive Office and will report directly to the Board of Directors and Council.

(10) Nothing in this act shall preclude the development of projects to provide guidance to professional psychologists about ethical, legal, and clinical considerations in practice related to child abuse and neglect or to recommend public policy regulating such practice (Fox, 1991).