SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF POTENTIAL CHILD MALTREATMENT

(And how it may relate to the Family/Children of God)

By Karen Coleman

 

PART I - PHYSICAL NEGLECT

 

PHYSICAL FINDINGS THAT INDICATE NEGLECT:

  • FAILURE TO THRIVE. Failure to thrive is the "abnormal retardation of the growth and development of an infant." This retardation is seen as a "slowing down of any mental or physical activity or failure of intellectual abilities to develop" and is thought to be a significant sign of depression in infants or small children. Sometimes it may be the result of a chromosomal abnormality or a disease or illness, but more often it is seen as a result of physical deprivation, such as malnutrition. Psycho-social factors, such as severe cases of maternal deprivation - a child being separated from the mother, or not having a mother-figure in his or her life - often result in failure to thrive (Mosby 596, 1359). Although physical deprivation may not be seen very often in the Family, there are potential cases for it to occur. Struggling little families who in their misguided belief that living by faith means living without a visible means of support may subject their families to low standard living conditions or may not "have the faith" to provision healthy and adequate foods for their families. A bigger and more relevant concern is the one of maternal deprivation. Since the Family holds the belief that "God is in the business of breaking up families ("One Wife")", there are many children who have grown up (or didn’t grow, as the case may be) without the love and nurturing of their biological mothers. Road teams have played a significant role which may have been detrimental to many small young children. In particular, I can think of one child who had only one parent, a mother, but because his mother was a "national," she was sent out repeatedly on road teams. This was because she could produce more statistics and funds than a foreigner. This baby was in poor health, very thin, had a poor appetite, and was completely inconsolable nearly every day of his life. He was fortunate if he saw his mother more than one or two weekends out of the month. This is a good example of maternal deprivation.
  • SIGNS OF MALNUTRITION. Classic signs of malnutrition are thin arms and legs, abdominal distention (the stomach protrudes or sticks out abnormally), and lack of layers of fat underneath the skin. In all honestly, I have to say that I very rarely saw a child in this type of condition, although what was done to the teens definitely was physical neglect and abuse. Difficult teens were often forced to fast to "get the victory’’ and were put on what one might call a "paper diet" – Mo letters.
  • POOR PERSONAL HYGIENE, ESPECIALLY OF TEETH. Sometimes a child may look unkempt, hair never combed, clothes dirty or ragged, nails unclean, etc. The only times I can recall seeing children looking this way in the Family was perhaps a large family on their own (10 or so kids) where the poor mom just could not keep up with everything – we are all familiar with the scene of a frazzled mom with a baby in arms, toddlers hanging on her legs, and children getting into more dirt than one would like to believe exists!
  • UNCLEAN or INAPPROPRIATE DRESS. Inappropriate dress might include clothing that is too big or too small for the body, children and teens who are dressed provocatively or wear a lot of makeup, children dressed too warmly in summer and not dressed warm enough in winter, outdated or threadbare clothing, etc. This I have seen in the Family! Because spending "the Lord’s money" (we all know whose money we were spending, and it wasn’t the Lord’s!) was such a critical move, a lot of children have had to make do with what they could get, unless their parents were some influential leaders or "royal family." Woe unto anyone who would neglect to send their "voluntary " percent to someone up the chain in order to buy their poor child a pair of shoes! The needs of THE Family were greater than the needs of the family, or at least that is what we were convinced to believe. As far as inappropriate dress, a lot of teens and children have been going around for a long time dressed way too provocatively for their ages. Several years ago when the DO Family took pity on all the ex’s (or maybe it was a generous attempt to get them to tithe again?) and invited them to a nice DO-everybody else fellowship, we took a male teenager with us. His main comment was on the suggestive attire worn by all the female teens, and he wondered why anyone would dress like that. But it doesn’t stop there. What about all the little ones that were growing up through the sarong stage, which was popular in some of the warmer climates? We all know the real reason people wore sarongs, and it wasn’t only because of the weather!
  • EVIDENCE OF POOR HEALTH CARE. This would include children with a non-immunized status (a lot of THAT in the Family!), untreated infections, and frequent colds. Health care and the Family are definitely at odds with each other. One mother wrote me not long ago and said that after all the times she had not been able to take her child to the doctor because she was discouraged from doing it or the home had no money, she had discovered after leaving that her child had a lot of allergies and much of the illness she had experienced was a direct result of those allergies. This poor child had suffered needlessly for years when a simple medical diagnosis could have set the situation heading in another direction, one for optimal good health for the child. One of our children experienced serious major depression throughout her childhood. However, at the time and having no medical background, I did not realize that what she was experiencing was depression and thought she was just "frail" or "anemic." She was always fine on Family day but the next day and for several days thereafter, she could not bring herself to hardly get off the bed and was "sick" – an unexplainable sickness – for days. Having studied mental health now, I realize that she was afflicted with major depression and had all the classic symptoms of it as a child. Now we are able to work with it and talk about it, but she could have been spared many years of agonizing. However, can you imagine the reaction if we had said, "Hey, we think our child is depressed. Can we take her to a specialist?" We would have been out the door real quick! Medical neglect is a big concern in the Family and in many other religious cults.
  • FREQUENT INJURIES FROM LACK OF SUPERVISION. I would have to say that for the most part, this has not been a problem as far as physical injuries go. However, as Marina shared in her notes to us, the emotional scars of what happened to her children (and I can say the same is true of my children) when they were not in her care but in the hands of someone who was supposed to have been trustworthy, run deeper than any physical disability that one might have to endure. People are usually able to adapt to physical trauma much easier than emotional or mental trauma. Unfortunately, because we were convinced that all the children were "our" children and that we should not have "special preference" with our own, a lot of their care was dependent upon people outside of our personal influence, and it has led to devastating results for many innocent children.

 

BEHAVIORS THAT INDICATE NEGLECT:

  • DULL AND INACTIVE. This would include children who are excessively passive, who don’t seem to care to make decisions or who show little concern for what is going on around them. Often they don’t engage in normal child’s play. If a child is prone to being "sleepy" all the time, it is time to begin to look at what is really going on with them.
  • SELF-STIMULATORY BEHAVIORS. Sucking on fingers or "rocking" back and forth are sometimes a child’s feeble attempts to comfort him / herself when no one else is paying attention or cares to comfort him / her. It can also be a means of drawing much-craved attention to him / herself by retreating back into an earlier, more baby-like stage of development. After all, everyone likes a baby, don’t they?

 

BEHAVIORS THAT INDICATE NEGLECT IN AN OLDER CHILD:

  • BEGGING OR STEALING FOOD.

This could actually happen for two reasons – either the child is not getting enough food and is genuinely hungry or the child may be doing it to draw attention to him / herself. In either case, it could be as result of physical neglect – either not providing the child with adequate food or adequate attention. This actually happened in a school home I was in. Suddenly the OC room began having a problem with mice (it was a large country home) and we found that the OC boys were stealing food from the kitchen and putting it under their pillows to eat at night after the lights were out. The poor kids were hungry! In this case, they were not punished, but rather a snack was provided for them at all subsequent bedtimes.

  • ABSENTEEISM FROM SCHOOL.

Not a problem in the Family – no one sends their kids to school. Educational neglect is the bigger problem. Unfortunately, the Family has produced a generation of kids, most of whom have very poor reading and writing skills, can barely do essential math, and have very low self-esteem as a result. Now, we all know the Family does not care much about a person’s self-esteem – isn’t it just pride? However, it is very detrimental to a child who has to live and succeed in an environment outside the Family without acceptable educational skills. They feel cheated, for one thing. And they are right. They have been cheated out of an education. But what about "The Super Workbooks" that were the "in thing" in the Family for a number of years? It was just a show, a façade for the "system" - to be able to say we were giving our kids an education. But I know a number of teenagers at that time who couldn’t even do a 3rd grade Super Workbook! Yes, Uncle Dan cared, I believe, because I know him personally, and I know he loves kids and is genuinely concerned about their education. He made some great Math videos, but could the average little peon family get them? No! They were for show in the big school homes, and so the little peon families just had to continue on with what they could get and what they could afford, which wasn’t much. Family children have been sadly educationally neglected for years.

  • DRUG OR ALCOHOL ADDICTION.

This is a whole topic in itself. As most of us are aware, the second generation has had some big problems with drugs and alcohol. Whoever said it previously on the board was right – we did not teach our children about drugs. And why was that? I believe it was because we thought we were raising our children right, we were giving them "the truth," and because the truth saved us from drugs and alcohol, we believed it would save our children from drugs and alcohol. Therefore, there was no need to educate them on these evils of society. We taught compliance to our children. We didn’t teach them to say "NO!" so when they were faced with that situation, why would they say "No?" We never said alcohol was bad or that drugs can kill you and, at the least, ruin your life. In fact, as one young person pointed out, many people glorified them while sharing their personal testimonies, making them look "kewell." Sad to say, a lot of our kids have done drugs, some are addicted, some are coke addicts, some like to trip, some will probably die. We sorely neglected a major part of our children’s education.

  • VANDALISM or SHOPLIFTING.

I would guess that a good number of our kids have been involved with either of these at one time or another. Again we have to ask why. I would say that shoplifting is a way to get things that you could have never had otherwise. Again it goes back to the same idea as buying clothes or items deemed "unnecessary" by the home or just a genuine lack of money, which most of us have had at one time or another. On the other hand, how much honesty have some of these kids seen in the Family? A lot of us have been honest. However, there are those that I have even seen who have a real knack at "ripping off the system" and have passed that on to the second generation. I’m thinking of one mother in particular that always knew how to put one over on the stores and pulled some shyster-type deals to get back some money she didn’t really deserve. Kids aren’t stupid! They know what’s going on, and you can’t do those things and not expect them to follow suit. Vandalism is a form of "acting out." – a modern word that means they are expressing their internal conflicts or emotional pain ( Mosby 23). Some of our kids have been through a lot of that and it’s going to manifest itself somehow.

 

I hope that these explanations of what neglect means will be a help in aiding some people to recognize it when they see it, or if they see signs of it in their children, they will be able to talk to them about it, deal with it appropriately, and DO something about it!

I am going to be sending additional parts that will talk about abuse – emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. I also have a paper that I wrote on major depression if anyone is having problems along those lines or suspects that their child may be having a problem. If you are interested, I will send that along, too, if it can benefit anyone. Please e-mail me if you have any questions about anything specific. Most of the above information came from the policies and procedures of abuse and neglect in the hospital where I work as a nurse and from MOSBY’S Medical, Nursing, and Allied Health DICTIONARY, 4th edition, published by Mosby in St. Louis, 1994.

 

 

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