Believe it or not, child abuse has not always been considered a crime. It was thought of as a “family issue.” During the last 50 years, pressure has been put on Congress to do something about the large numbers of children being maltreated and to provide funding for family support, however, it has become primarily a legal issue instead of focusing on the total problem. This means that a lot of money has been allocated in tracking, reporting, and investigating possible cases of child abuse and neglect, but the provision of family support systems has been neglected.
Fortunately, there has been a lot of scientific research documenting the developmental impact of abuse. “The growing empirical evidence that early exposure to chronic violence, a lack of nurturing relationships, and/or chaotic and cognitively ‘toxic’ environments may significantly alter a child’s neural development and result in:
- A failure to learn,
- Emotional and relationship difficulties, and
- A predisposition to violent and/or impulsive behavior.”
“The child may develop a chronic fear response, such as neural systems governing stress responses will become overactive, leaving the child to be hypersensitive to the presence of cues signaling a threat. Alternatively, a child experiencing a violent environment may become unresponsive and overly withdrawn. In either case, although this ‘survival’ reaction may be an important adaptation for life in a violent home environment, it can be maladaptive in other environments, such as school, when the child needs to concentrate and make friends with peers.”
If more of a focus were placed on early prevention, such as with home visitation services, providing family support could be initiated before the situation gets out of control. The key issues then would not be legal sanctions, but what the community and government could do to reduce or prevent harm done to children in the first place.
 “Preventing child abuse: Changes to family support in the 21st century, “National Child Protection Clearinghouse,” 2002.