Chapter

Women, neglect and abuse, and the consequences

Patricia Moran

in Oxford Textbook of Women and Mental Health

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

ISBN: 9780199214365
Published online July 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199640454 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/med/9780199214365.003.0031

Series: Oxford Textbooks

Women, neglect and abuse, and the consequences

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There are many factors that influence our ability to manage and enjoy the role of parenting, but there is nothing that quite prepares us for it. Many people will seek advice and help about parenting from family and friends, and some will seek more formal forms of support from services. Over 5000 calls a month, for example, are received by the ‘Parentline Plus’ telephone help-line in the United Kingdom (UK) from parents asking for advice about managing their children (Boddy et al. 2004). Around three-quarters of callers are female, reflecting the predominance of women as main carers of children. The adult-focused issue callers identify as contributing most to their parenting difficulty is their own mental health. Surveys indicate that many more parents struggle to care for their children but do not engage with formal support services due to fears around confidentiality, stigmatization, and being labelled a failure (National Family and Parenting Institute 2006). In a significant minority of cases, involving several thousands of parents in the UK, parenting difficulties cross the threshold into child maltreatment requiring statutory intervention for the protection of children. For some, this intervention either arrives too late or else fails, with official statistics showing that every ten days in England and Wales one child is killed at the hands of their parent (Coleman et al. 2007).

There is an over-representation of parents with mental health difficulties and substance misuse among families in which child maltreatment occurs, and a significant proportion of these parents will themselves have been the victim of neglect and abuse. Working with women in psychiatric and psychotherapeutic settings therefore necessitates an understanding of their context, including their role as parents, and an understanding of child protection issues (Royal College of Psychiatrists 2002). It also involves consideration of their adult relationships, attachment style, and supportive context, and of their own history of neglect and abuse, since these are factors that are likely to influence their ability to cope as parents, and influence continuity of risks to the next generation (Bifulco et al. 2009).

The aim of this chapter is to develop understanding of neglect and abuse in terms of its contexts, its impact on women, and its relation to mental illness. Rates of various forms of maltreatment and the gender of its victims and perpetrators are described. The contexts in which child maltreatment is most likely to occur are examined, and in particular the relationship between parental mental health and parenting. The consequences of neglect and abuse for life-course development are considered, including the intergenerational risk for neglect, abuse, and mental illness. Finally, some implications for intervention with women and families are outlined.

Chapter.  5845 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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