?In its mildest form, young children are left unattended at home all day; in its most severe forms- beatings, mutilation, starvation, incest, and abandonment on public property- children are actively, horridly maltreated?, (Fuchs). This paper will explore the different effects of child abuse. Child abuse is a long standing practice throughout human history. This paper will look back at previous reports of child abuse and the ways the government has taken action against the issue. It will focus on the United States, both past and present and the emergence of awareness of child abuse in nineteenth and twentieth-century France.
Early American Views of Child Abuse
Child abuse is an age old phenomenon. It began with the ancient Greeks and Romans leaving deformed and female babies on the roadsides to die and has wound its way through history all over the globe. (Jenks) However, tracing the roots of child abuse in the United States is short work because the country itself is so young. The English Common law gave parents and guardians all rights over their children, who had no legal right to protection on their own. This led to the care givers rights to impose any sort of punishment they considered necessary. (Pfohl) Severe punishments were considered essential to the up-bringing of children in the seventeenth century because of dominant religious values and institutions. As the country moved into the eighteenth century and values began to shift as the domination of religious beliefs declined there was no effort to prevent child abuse. (Jenks) In fact, a court in North Carolina declared that what the parent saw fit as punishment for their child was assumed to be correct and liability was only in cases where permanent injury resulted. (Pfohl) Three reform movements in the nineteenth marked the beginning of a change in child abuse laws.
American Reformation of Child Abuse Laws
The first major movement of the reform was the House of Refuge Movement. In 1825 the New York House of Refuge opened. (Pfohl) This juvenile institution was established as a place to bring the children that had been removed from bad homes. These children were considered to be living in corrupt urban environments and were pulled from them to keep them from mingling with the dregs of society on the streets. In 1826 Philadelphia and Boston also had refuge houses, New Orleans in 1845, and Rochester and Baltimore in 1849. (Pfohl) However, these refuge houses were not for the betterment of the children, but for the betterment of society. The House of Refuge Movement was enacted for preventive penology to ensure that the children of bad homes would not grow to be delinquents in society. It was unconcerned with the well-being of the children themselves.
The second of these three reform movements was the SPCC. In 1875 the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals helped with the abuse case of Mary Ellen, a nine year old girl who had been abused by her foster parents. (Pfohl) Mary Ellen?s story became a media event and out of all the press the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was formed. The SPCC was concerned with ?saving the children?. In order to help abused children the SPCC had to remove the children from the bad homes they were living in, which in turn caused a large increase in the number of children living in institutions and supported the House of Refuge. Most of the children that were rescued were taken out of foster homes because the SPCC did not like to intervene in the natural homes. The SPCC eventually fell due to a number of reasons the most prominent being that the SPCC chose to remove children from bad homes and the growing areas of child psychology and social work worked to keep the family as a unit and solve the problems between parent and child. (Pfohl)
The final movement of the reform was the formation of the juvenile court. In Illinois in 1899 the first juvenile court was founded and by 1920 juvenile courts were in all but three states. (Pfohl) This legislation led to the removal of children from adult institutions. Once again though, the court was not seen as protection for the children from unfit parents, but a means to prevent lower class delinquency. Children of abusive homes were seen as pre-delinquent, not as victims.