Emotional and Psychological Abuse of Children Leading to Legal Claims
While many incidents of child abuse involve physical harm, abuse also may take the form of emotional or psychological harm. This may unfold over a long time, rather than occurring in a single incident. Emotional abuse is often less visible than physical abuse, but it may cause just as much damage to a child. It may ultimately lead to physical abuse as well.
Sometimes emotional abuse involves rejection, such as signaling to a child that their needs and feelings are not meaningful. In other cases, it may take the form of insulting, criticizing, mocking, or demeaning a child through words or actions that undermine their self-image and self-esteem. An adult also may threaten a child with physical harm, exploit a weakness, or restrict a child’s movement and activities. A lack of interaction with other children and an absence of mentally and physically stimulating experiences can stunt a child’s development. If an adult manipulates a child into participating in inappropriate or criminal activities, this may increase their risk of delinquency as they get older.
Special Needs Children
A child with special needs may be especially vulnerable to emotional or psychological abuse. They also may be less able to tell another adult that abuse is occurring.
Recognizing Emotional or Psychological Abuse of a Child
Someone who suspects that a child is suffering from emotional or psychological abuse should report it to the authorities immediately. Visible signs of emotional abuse may include:
Mood shifts or withdrawal
Sleep disorders and bedwetting
Acting too mature for their age
An excessive desire to comply with what adults want
Lying or cheating
Violent or quasi-criminal actions, such as stealing or vandalism
Self-harm and suicidal impulses
An adult may be more likely to perpetrate abuse if they have a record of violent or abusive conduct. Hostile interactions and unhealthy relationships with other adults may affect an adult’s relationship with a child. An adult who is prone to mood swings and anger problems may look for a way to relieve their anger by emotionally abusing a child. Sometimes substance abuse (including alcohol abuse) or mental illness can play a role in these behaviors, although this is not an excuse for abuse.
Legal Claims Arising From Emotional or Psychological Abuse
A child may suffer from emotional abuse at the hands of a parent or another adult in their family. Other instances of emotional abuse involve people whom parents have entrusted with caring for their child, such as daycare employees. When a child suffers harm from this behavior, parents may have a legal claim against any person or entity that was at fault. They may be able to recover damages for psychological counseling or therapy, as well as other financial losses resulting from the abuse. Damages also may account for the subjective harm to the child, such as their emotional distress.
Most individual perpetrators of abuse do not have substantial funds or assets to pay a judgment against them. As a result, parents may want to bring the entity that employed the perpetrator into the lawsuit if possible. This usually would involve showing that the employer was negligent and that this contributed to the abuse. For example, a business that failed to conduct proper background checks of job applicants before hiring them to work with children might be held liable for negligent hiring. Or a business that noticed (or should have noticed) an employee acting inappropriately toward a child may be liable for negligent supervision or retention if it failed to take corrective action.
The first priority when a child suffers from abuse is removing them from the abusive environment and ensuring that they receive any medical attention that may be needed. After addressing these concerns, though, parents may want to consult a lawyer who can guide them through the process of bringing a claim. Most personal injury attorneys take their cases on a contingency fee basis, which means that they collect their fees only as a percentage of a settlement or judgment obtained for a client.
Look for a Lawyer
Parents should look for an attorney who has handled other child abuse cases and has a strong reputation in their field. The Justia Lawyer Directory allows people seeking legal services to find personal injury lawyers congruent with their needs.