Child abuse comprises actions and inactions that endanger a child’s physical and emotional well-being. Child abuse dates back to ancient cultures, where the practice of infanticide was common in Greek and Roman societies. Ancient societies mandated parents with the power to do whatever they pleased with infants before they attained age because they were not considered human. Cultural background plays a huge role in what society finds child abuse. Practices that may be deemed okay in certain cultures are considered abuse in different cultures. Additionally, child protection laws transformed how child abuse cases are treated globally.
Psychological research indicates that the cause of child abuse is rooted in behavioral theory. The behavioral theory states that stimulus triggers most instances of child abuse. Parents and caregivers who abuse children are often triggered by a child’s actions, such as tantrums. As a result, the parent or caregiver responds with either physical or verbal violence as a form of emotional release. Currently, they are systems in place that enforce child protection laws and ensure the well-being of children in the country. The six-part Netflix docuseries “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez” further illustrates the different elements regarding child abuse. “The Trial of Gabriel Fernandez” centers on the story of abuse and how the system fails to protect victims of child abuse leading to harm and untimely deaths of innocent children (Brian Knappenberger, 2020). The docuseries demonstrates the majority of the concepts for this course by examining the case of Gabriel Fernandez.
Recognizing and Identifying Child Abuse and Neglect
Understanding child abuse requires knowledge of what constitutes child abuse. Physical abuse is a form of child abuse that causes bodily harm to children (Christian, et al., 2018). Inflicting physical violence on children can be done in various ways, such as hitting, biting, and kicking. In the docuseries, the medical report of Gabriel Fernandez detail the extent of the physical injuries he sustained at the hands of his mother and his mother’s boyfriend. He suffered physical torture that resulted in broken bones and being shot multiple times with a BB gun. Fernandez was forced to eat cat litter and expired foods by his mother and mother’s boyfriend. His body contained several cigarettes marks to indicate burns. Additionally, testimonies from his siblings showed that he was bound and gagged in a cupboard on countless occasions. By his death, Fernandez was missing several teeth that his abusers had knocked out.
According to Hinkamp (2021), the government defines physical abuse as any actions that harm or create the probability of harm to the physical well-being. However, the concept of physical abuse can be vague when dealing with different cultures and backgrounds. Acts such as spanking are seen as harmless in some societies. Therefore, when physical abuse is defined as any acts that physically harm a child, it includes actions such as spanking that are meant as “harmless punishment.” Fernandez’s situation mimics the battered child syndrome. His medical reports showed fracture injuries that were in different states of healing. Therefore, the existence of the battered child syndrome proves that his abuse had been going on for a long time. Physical abuse often leads to bruising is crucial in spotting abuse (Seddighi, et al., 2021). Although bruising does not necessarily indicate physical abuse, it can be a necessary form of proving physical abuse. Bruising in physical abuse is present mainly in suspicious body areas such as under the neck, the back thighs, and inner thighs.
Spotting physical abuse is crucial to saving children from abuse and holding abusers accountable. Physical abuse is among one of the most easily recognized signs of abuse. Physically abused children are in constant pain and display other characteristics such as swollen body parts, burns, and bite marks. Additionally, physical abuse can lead to behavioral changes in children, such as withdrawal and fear. Continuous physical abuse causes victims to develop coping. The downside of coping mechanisms for physical abuse is that they may interfere with a child’s development. In the documentary, Fernandez’s teacher was among the people in his life who spot the signs of physical abuse. Although the teacher’s efforts in reporting the abuse did not aid in help being delivered to Hernandez, the importance of spotting and reporting signs of physical abuse cannot be underrated.
Child abuse can also occur in the form of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is often administered verbally. However, intentionally withdrawing affection is also a form of abuse. Gabriel Hernandez encountered emotional abuse through verbal abuse and threats. According to Fernandez’s siblings, his abusers would make fun of Hernandez constantly. The abuse Fernandez endured often centered around allegations of him being gay. He was forced to wear girl dresses while they taunted him. Gabriel Fernandez suffered a combination of physical and emotional abuse. His case demonstrates how child abuse in children is administered. Additionally, this case reinforces that close people often abuse children, such as caretakers and parents.
Assessing And Reporting and Reporting Child Maltreatment
Different states in the United States have different expectations about the people required to report signs of child abuse. Although the majority of States have selected personnel mandated to report physical abuse, they exist states that require all citizens to report if they suspect child abuse. There are various reasons why ordered personnel choose not to report suspected child abuse instances (Williams, 2021).The docuseries highlights the reasons why mandated professionals do not report abuse. Fernandez’s teacher was among the people who contacted Fernandez and chose to report her suspicions. However, after inaction from the relevant authorities, while Fernandez’s situation was escalating, the teacher almost stopped reporting the instances due to the fear that it would make things worse for Fernandez at home.
There were instances where the people who suspected Fernandez was being abused did not report for the fear that it would jeopardize their jobs. Arturo Miranda Martinez’s colleagues, a security guard at the Los Angeles County welfare office, risked his job to make a call to 911 reporting his suspicions on the state of Gabriel Fernandez. Schools play a huge role in stopping child abuse. Schools are expected to provide a safe environment for the children while looking out for signs of abuse and reporting them. Therefore, educators need to be educated about abuse and how to spot it in children. At Gabriel Fernandez’s school, there did not have strategies in place to protect the children from abuse. When his teacher notified her immediate boss about her suspicions that Fernandez was being abused, she was discouraged from pursuing the matter further. To report incidences of child abuse, mandated reporters need to correctly assess the case to ensure there are no false accusations. The mandated reporters need to be aware of what to look out for to identify child abuse cases. For instance, teachers need to be able to tell extreme behavioral changes in their students that could indicate child abuse.
What Happens When Abuse and Neglect have Occurred
When a mandatory reporter has contacted the relevant authorities for child abuse suspicion, the responsibility of saving the child is put in the authority’s hands. Gabriel Fernandez’s case was reported by suspicious family members, a security guard, and a teacher. Fernandez’s teacher contacted social services multiple times to get help for Fernandez. His great uncle and great aunt contacted both the social services and sheriff’s department to investigate the state of Fernandez. Investigating abuse in most social departments follows three main steps; taking the report, assigning the case, investigating and determining if there was abuse and recommending necessary steps.
According to Thomas et al. (2020), receiving a report from mandated reporters requires careful assessment to determine the risks involved. The level of danger the child is perceived to determine the next steps and the urgency the child needs help. The evaluation and assignment of the case determine if the issue is investigated or not. Social services cooperate with law enforcement depending on the nature of the case. Fernandez’s case required action from law enforcement and the Los Angeles County department of children and family services. The Los Angeles County department of children and family services investigation did not thoroughly adhere to the steps in handling child abuse cases. The reports on the state of Fernandez required immediate categorization as high risk and recommended appropriate action. The cases were closed without conducting thorough investigations by talking to all the parties involved, including Fernandez. This case highlights the lack of cooperation between law enforcement and social services. The goal of protecting children from abuse should be enough to guarantee cooperation among relevant authorities.
Perpetrators: Those Who Abuse and Neglect Children
Most people can not comprehend how someone can abuse a child. It is hard to pinpoint why an abuser targets a child. Psychologists cute varied reasons why parents and caregivers abuse children. Some abusers do it due to ignorance (Zeanah & Humphreys, 2018). Ignorance often stems from a cycle of abuse as they were treated the same. Other abusers do it due to emotional trauma and issues in their lives. Analyzing the life of Fernandez’s mother reveals her psychological problems that could explain her behavior. Fernandez’s mother encountered trauma at a young age by being gang-raped and exposed to drugs that may have contributed to her learning disabilities. However, finding the exact cause of why abuse children are highly subjective. Circumstances vary for each case. Additionally, everyone encounters challenges in life. Therefore, abusing a child boils down to choices.
Research shows that relatives abuse most children. Parents’ child abuse accounts for more than 80% of child abuse cases. Mothers rank higher in likelihood to abuse children than men. His biological mother and her boyfriend abused Fernandez. Parental abuse stems from various issues. History of childhood abuse, parenting styles, temper issues, and challenging children contribute to abusive behavior by parents. Parents who abuse children tend to suffer from low self-esteem and other psychological problems. Parental is challenging. The art of raising children is demanding and exhausting to parents. Therefore, the high-stress levels may result in outbursts of anger that hurt children. However, not all parents with a history of the mentioned issues abuse their children; Equipping parents with enough resources and support has been shown to reduce child abuse cases. Additionally, parents who have better-coping skills for trauma, stress, and everyday challenges rarely abuse their children.
Impact Of Abuse and Neglect on Children’s Lives
The impact of child abuse is well documented. The trauma from child abuse affects children into their adulthood. Children who experience abuse struggle to function socially and form attachments. The docuseries details how Fernandez shifted from being a bubbly boy to a reserved person with constant anger outbursts. His teacher and friend noted that he stopped interacting with his friends and preferred to be with himself. Child abuse causes severe cases of emotional disability that often results in psychological issues such as depression and low sei esteem (Subroyen, 2020). The trauma from child abuse is also a massive factor in a child developing post-traumatic stress disorders.
Apart from the emotional impacts of child abuse, children suffer physical consequences due to abuse. For example, Fernandez lost several teeth because of physical abuse. He was fed cat shit and substandard food, which was harmful to his nutrition. Death is also a possible physical consequence of child abuse. After months of abuse, Fernandez died due to injuries sustained by his mother’s boyfriend on the night of May 24, 2013.
In conclusion, the Netflix docuseries “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez” illustrates different elements of a child regarding child abuse. His case shows factors that amount to child abuse and how abuse can be identified. Additionally, the case how reporting child abuse and having an efficient body of child protection institutions could reduce child abuse instances. Child abuse is often perpetrated by people who are familiar with the children. The docuseries emphasizes the need for reforms in child protection. Therefore, the government needs to implement more measures to ensure efficiency and cooperation within the relevant authorities.
Brian Knappenberger (Director) (2020). The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez. [Television broadcast]. Netflix.
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Williams, A. (2021). Childhood, Moral Obligation, and the Law in the Trials of Gabriel Fernandez. https://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/honors-theses/609/
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