Psychological abuse: Children's invisible suffering

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CECW Information Sheet #5E. Montreal, QC: Université de Montréal, École de service social.

When child welfare workers started to look at psychological abuse, what was once invisible became visible and very disturbing. In Quebec, psychological abuse was noted in one child out of every four reported for maltreatment. The vast majority of these children also suffer other forms of maltreatment.

In Canada, according to child welfare statistics, an estimated 3.6 children out of 1,000 are psychologically abused. Given that many children are not reported, this figure is clearly underestimate. One of the reasons psychological abuse is often ignored is that there is no single clear and generally accepted definition. Defining this form of abuse must rely on judgement, cultural norms, and values. Each of us has an idea of what is acceptable and what is not. In their study, Chamberland et al. distinguish between direct and indirect psychological abuse:

  • The types of direct abuse examined in the study are threats of abuse/terrorizing, rejection/denigration/disapproval, and emotional indifference/ignoring.
  • Exposure to domestic violence is the only type of indirect psychological abuse considered.
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Information Sheet #5