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Thread: Abuse risk seen worse for kids as families change

  1. #1
    Elite Member celeb_2006's Avatar
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    Default Abuse risk seen worse for kids as families change

    Abuse risk seen worse as families change - Yahoo! News

    Six-year-old Oscar Jimenez Jr. was beaten to death in California, then buried under fertilizer and cement. Two-year-old Devon Shackleford was drowned in an Arizona swimming pool. Jayden Cangro, also 2, died after being thrown across a room in Utah.
    In each case, as in many others every year, the alleged or convicted perpetrator had been the boyfriend of the child's mother — men thrust into father-like roles which they tragically failed to embrace.
    Every case is different, every family is different. Some single mothers bring men into their lives who lovingly help raise children when the biological father is gone for good.

    Nonetheless, many scholars and front-line caseworkers interviewed by The Associated Press see the abusive-boyfriend syndrome as part of a broader trend that deeply worries them. They note an ever-increasing share of America's children grow up in homes without both biological parents, and say the risk of child abuse is markedly higher in the nontraditional family structures.
    "This is the dark underbelly of cohabitation," said Brad Wilcox, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia. "Cohabitation has become quite common, and most people think, 'What's the harm?' The harm is we're increasing a pattern of relationships that's not good for children."
    The existing data on child abuse in America is patchwork, making it difficult to track national trends with precision. The most recent federal survey on child maltreatment tallies nearly 900,000 abuse incidents reported to state agencies in 2005, but it does not delve into how rates of abuse correlate with parents' marital status or the makeup of a child's household.
    Similarly, data on the roughly 1,500 child-abuse fatalities that occur annually in the United States leaves unanswered questions. Many of those deaths result from parental neglect, rather than overt physical abuse. Of the 500 or so deaths caused by physical abuse, the federal statistics do not specify how many were caused by a stepparent or unmarried partner of the parent.

    However, there are many other studies that, taken together, reinforce the concerns. Among the findings:
    _Children living in households with unrelated adults are nearly 50 times as likely to die of inflicted injuries as children living with two biological parents, according to a study of Missouri abuse reports published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2005.
    _Children living in stepfamilies or with single parents are at higher risk of physical or sexual assault than children living with two biological or adoptive parents, according to several studies co-authored by David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center.
    _Girls whose parents divorce are at significantly higher risk of sexual assault, whether they live with their mother or their father, according to research by Robin Wilson, a family law professor at Washington and Lee University.
    "All the emphasis on family autonomy and privacy shields the families from investigators, so we don't respond until it's too late," Wilson said. "I hate the fact that something dangerous for children doesn't get responded to because we're afraid of judging someone's lifestyle."
    Census data leaves no doubt that family patterns have changed dramatically in recent decades as cohabitation and single-parenthood became common. Thirty years ago, nearly 80 percent of America's children lived with both parents. Now, only two-thirds of them do. Of all families with children, nearly 29 percent are now one-parent families, up from 17 percent in 1977.
    The net result is a sharp increase in households with a potential for instability, and the likelihood that adults and children will reside in them who have no biological tie to each other.
    "I've seen many cases of physical and sexual abuse that come up with boyfriends, stepparents," said Eliana Gil, clinical director for the national abuse-prevention group Childhelp.
    "It comes down to the fact they don't have a relationship established with these kids," she said. "Their primary interest is really the adult partner, and they may find themselves more irritated when there's a problem with the children."

    That was the case with Jayden Cangro.

    In July 2006, his mother's boyfriend, Phillip Guymon, hurled the 2-year-old nine feet across a room in Murray, Utah, because he balked at going to bed. The child died from his injuries.
    Jayden's mother, Carly Moore, has undergone therapy since the killing. Yet she continues to second-guess herself about her two-year relationship with Guymon.
    "There's so much guilt," she said in a telephone interview. "I never saw him hit my kids, ever. But he was gruff in his manner — there were signs that he wasn't most pleasant person for kids to be around."
    Guymon has been sentenced to five years in prison for second-degree felony child abuse homicide. Moore thinks the penalty is far too light.
    "It's a hard thing," she said, recalling Jayden's death. "You go off to work, you say, 'See you later,' and then everything's completely shattered in a split second."
    Some women can't see the trouble even when it's right in front of them.
    Jennifer Harvey of Springfield, Mo., acknowledged in court last summer that she continued to date a man for two months after becoming suspicious that he had killed her 18-month-old son, Gavin.
    "I was in denial," said Harvey, who was placed on five years' probation for not acting on her suspicions. The boyfriend, Joseph Haslett, was sentenced to life in prison for suffocating the toddler with a headlock.
    The slaying of toddler Devon Shackleford in 2004 was premeditated.
    Derek Chappell, who was sentenced to death this month, considered Devon an obstacle to an on-again, off-again relationship with the boy's mother, and drowned him in an apartment complex's swimming pool in Mesa, Ariz.
    The mother, Kristal Frank, has created a Web site in memory of her son, full of reminiscences and snapshots. Chappell is referred to only as "that inhumane thing."
    Such cases trigger a visceral reaction, but there are no simple solutions. Some of the worst cases of child abuse involve biological parents, and examples abound of children thriving in nontraditional households
    "There's no going back to the past," said Washington and Lee's Robin Wilson. "We don't tell people who they can cohabit with. We don't tell them they can't have children out of wedlock."
    There are, of course, some initiatives aimed at reducing the percentage of children raised by single parents. That's one of the goals of the Bush administration's Healthy Marriage Initiative.
    "The risk (of abuse) to children outside a two-parent household is greater," said Susan Orr, one of the top child-welfare specialists in the Department of Health and Human Services. "Does that mean all single parents abuse their children? Of course not. But the risk is certainly there, and it's useful to know that."
    As with many local programs, the federal effort encourages single parents to at least consider marriage, while other programs focus on broadening the support network for single parents. One long-standing initiative, the Nurse-Family Partnership, has lowered abuse rates by arranging for nurses to visit low-income, first-time mothers throughout their pregnancy and after their child is born.
    Many social workers say the emphasis should be on nurturing healthy relationships, whether or not the parent is married.
    "The primary thing is to have adults around who care about these kids, whatever shape it takes," said Zeinab Chahine, who was a New York City child-protection caseworker and administrator for 22 years before taking a high-level job in July with Casey Family Programs.
    Chahine said caseworkers need to learn as much as possible, in a nonconfrontational manner, about the personal dynamics in at-risk households. Is there an unmarried partner who spends time there, or a newly arrived stepparent? Does that person care about the children, or consider them a nuisance? Is a criminal background check warranted?
    "We start from perspective that the mom is as concerned about her kids as we are," Chahine said. "We can try to help her see the need for us to look into the situation."
    Judith Schagrin, a Baltimore-based social worker engaged in child welfare for 24 years, said live-in boyfriends can be valuable resources for a single mother and her children. Some even have been awarded custody of children as an alternative to foster care while the mother is in jail.
    "We look at the relationship the kid has with whomever is around — is it supportive or destructive?" Schagrin said. "Does the mother have a long-term, stable relationship with this individual, or does she have rotating list of partners coming in and out?"
    In the real world, however, learning crucial details about a potentially fragile family is not easy.
    "The field struggles with the balance between intrusion in private matters and awareness of significant risks to the child," said Fred Wulczyn, a research fellow at the University of Chicago's Chapin Hall Center for Children.
    "With a social worker who's in the house on a once-a-month basis, how good do we expect our diagnostics to be?" Wulczyn asked. "Achieving the right balance, so you never have to ponder 'What if?' — that's hard to do."
    The sensitivity of probing into private lives is one of many problems underlying the lack of definitive national data that correlates child abuse with parents' marital status and household makeup. Some conservative commentators say "political correctness" is partly to blame — namely a reluctance to press for data that might reflect negatively on single motherhood.
    Another problem is lack of thoroughness and consistency among the states as they forward abuse reports to federal agencies. Differing definitions of "household" and varying efforts to ascertain marital status result in a statistical "hodgepodge," according to Elliott Smith, who oversees a national archive of child-abuse research at Cornell University.
    Among child-welfare specialists, there is hope that the statistical gaps will be filled by a comprehensive federal survey, the National Incidence Study, that will be completed next year.
    The previous version of the study, released in 1996, concluded that children of single parents had a 77 percent greater risk of being harmed by physical abuse than children living with both parents. But the new version will delve much deeper into the specifics of family structure and cohabitation, according to project director Andrea Sedlak.
    "We can ask the questions," Sedlak said. "But it's hard to look at cohabiting. It could well be there will be too much missing data to make definitive statements."
    Long term, many child-welfare advocates say economic and social changes are needed, so day-care options improve and young men in poor communities have job prospects that make marriage seem more feasible. There's also agreement that many adults in high-risk households need better parenting skills — whether it's the harried young mothers often guilty of harmful neglect or the boyfriends and stepfathers often responsible for physical abuse.
    "These boyfriends increasingly have been raised without fathers and been abused themselves," said Patrick Fagan, a family-policy specialist with the conservative Family Research Council. "Among the inner-city poor, the turnover of male partners is high. Where's a boy getting the model of what a father is like?"
    Oscar Jimenez Jr., the San Jose, Calif., boy found buried under cement and fertilizer, did have a biological father who was devoted to him. But the father, Oscar Sr., separated from Oscar Jr.'s mother in 2002 and was prevented from seeing his son in the weeks before the boy's death in February, allegedly from a beating by live-in boyfriend and ex-convict Samuel Corona.
    The mother, Kathyrn Jimenez, says she, like her son, was abused by Corona, yet she has pleaded guilty to three felony charges for assisting him — driving with him from San Jose to Phoenix to hide her son's remains, then keeping quiet about the killing for months.
    Kathryn Jimenez was in custody when Oscar Jr.'s funeral took place Sept. 29. She didn't hear the plea of a longtime family friend. "Listen carefully to the message," Olessia Silva said at the service. "To all the mothers in this world who may find themselves in a difficult situation or harmful relationship: know that there is always, always someone willing to help if you would just reach out."

  2. #2
    Elite Member ManxMouse's Avatar
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    Yes, this is such a common theme. I did some work in law school with kids who were being removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. Our professor had sort of a sociobiological theory that we have tendencies left over from the animal world (think lions particularly), where a male who hooks up with a female wants to mate with her but kill her living offspring so only his genes will live on. I don't subscribe to a lot of these theories that simply equate human behavior to animals', but this one makes me think. The stepdad as murderer is SO common.

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    Gold Member Pippin69's Avatar
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    But aren't fathers (and mothers) just as abusive as well? Isn't it more of an issue of unstopped violent behavior then relation to the victim? I can't believe a man who would throw a 2 year old across the room would suddenly not do that to their own kid if they had one.

    One of the women in that story had a boyfriend that was an ex-convict. How would that be a good father figure? If she knew about that in advance, how did she think that would be safe for her and her son to be around?

    I just don't see how a family's structure has anything to do with it. It sounds like an opportunity for a Right-Wing rant against divorce.
    "Just because I walked into a turd supermarket doesn't mean I have to buy anything." - John Oliver

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    Elite Member MsDark's Avatar
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    Duh. People are way less likely to give a shit about a kid that isn't biologically theirs. And though people hate to hear it, and some are going to be outraged by this post, the fact is that kids are real cock-blockers (subconsciously more often than not, but sometimes even consciously!) when it comes to an adult who is not their mommy or daddy trying to pork their bio parent. And who can blame them really? It's just a fact that nobody wants to acknowledge.
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    Cock-blocker! Now that's a new term for me! LOL Yep, kids get in the way of a plentiful sex life, for sure.

  6. #6
    Elite Member MsDark's Avatar
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    And the frustration level of that is increased for an adult who didn't have a hand in creating the cock-blocker. It's just an icky fact.

    But some adults who have had kids (either without the benefit of a committed relationship with the co-creator, or who split up with the co-creator) seem to believe in a happy, sunshine world where Jr. and parent's new fuck buddy are sure to come to love one another and bond just as easily and simply as if the kid actually came from fuck buddy's loins. Reality check: More often than not, to the new adult, the existing kid is just an annoyance. And vice versa.

    If newcomer adult is a chick, and has a hankering to stick around, a good ploy is to pop out a new kid who, as a product of the new adult relationship, will relegate existing cock-blocker to the back burner. But as most existing kids usually live with the mother full time or part time, you usually have the scenario of a dude dealing with some other dude's kid. People don't realize how carefully that situation needs to be approached, even if the new guy is not adverse to children. And even if the kid is totally okay with mommy needing a man in her life (and in some cases actually excited about daddy shopping).
    Last edited by MsDark; November 18th, 2007 at 09:25 AM.
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    Elite Member crumpet's Avatar
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    Well, my take on it is that there are a lot of needy women with poor man choosing capabilities (in other words, so desperate for a maaayyyuun that they often overlook the obvious) and they bring new men into their lives too soon. How many times do we hear of this violence happening when boyfriend was babysitting while mom was at work? Why the fuck do these women have to move in with every man they date? It seems to me people with kids are too quick to live with people and they need to think about how this impacts their child in all sorts of ways. Your need to be in a relationship doesn't take precedence over the well being of your kid and if that means you don't have a relationship until your kids are grown, then so be it. It's not all about what you want or need anymore. Personally, it makes me cringe when I hear of a woman having her boyfriend live with her and her kids. Why can't you just date and each have your own place? Oh, that's right......there is no stigma attached to living together anymore and we've just come to expect our kids to be able to handle things just because we can. IMO, it sets a bad example. If your bf has to live with you because he can't afford his own place, then he's a loser anyway.

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