Child abuse and neglect are complex problems. There is no one single cause. Different forms of child abuse are caused by different factors or different combinations of factors. Some of the factors which can lead to child abuse are described below. At the core of all forms of child abuse is a lack of basic respect for children.
Community tolerance of violence against children
There is still some acceptance in the community for the use of physical force for the purposes of discipline and punishment of children. When held strongly by individual parents, these attitudes can support the physical and emotional abuse of children. This behaviour would not be tolerated between adults.
Lack of community understanding about the consequences of child abuse and neglect on children
Research has shown that the general public have a poor understanding of the true extent of the problem of child abuse in Australia. As a result, child abuse does not readily register as an issue of community concern. This leaves all of us without the knowledge and the confidence to know what to do to prevent child abuse in the first place or take action if we are worried about the safety of a child.
Adults who are sexually and physically violent
Some adults engage in physical and sexual violence towards other adults and children. This violence may often stem from individual psychological problems, low self esteem and a history of abuse and violence in their own childhood. Sex offenders hurt children because of a range of complex psychological and emotional problems.
Parents under stress
Child abuse can occur when parents experience stress and find it difficult to ask for or use support. Stress can be caused by unemployment, financial problems, divorce and separation. Parents under stress can sometimes transfer their feelings of frustration onto their children. The stress can also affect their judgement and decision-making as a parent.
Parents with health or mental health problems
Child abuse and neglect can sometimes occur when parents have a personal problem or illness which affects their ability to parent their children. Many parents with a mental illness that is being treated and who receive adequate support can parent their children well. Parents who have a mental illness that is unrecognised or untreated or who lack important supports may neglect or abuse their children. Their illness may make it difficult for them to identify or meet their child’s growing needs for security or stimulation.
Parents with alcohol or drug problems
Parents who are addicted to illicit drugs or alcohol can leave their children in unsafe environments or without adequate supervision. When substance or alcohol affected, some parents may be more prone to using violence.
Parents lack parenting skills
Sometimes child abuse and neglect can be caused by parents who have poor parenting skills. This may be because they did not have positive role models in their own parents. Sometimes, a lack of confidence and low self esteem prevent parents from knowing how to change harmful or negative parenting styles.
Families who are isolated
Families who are socially isolated are sometimes not able to find people to support them if they start having problems with their children. Often families who are isolated have no extended family network and often feel left out of their community. Sometimes, families experience isolation because of the loss of a parent through death or separation. Some families experience isolation because they become homeless and have to live in temporary accommodation.