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Know the signs: Mental Injury

Definition

In Alaska, what is sometimes called emotional abuse, exposure to family violence, and/or psychological maltreatment falls under the category of mental injury.

Mental injury (or psychological/emotional abuse) is a pattern of behavior that impairs a child’s emotional development or sense of self-worth. This may include constant criticism, threats, or rejection, as well as withholding love, support, or guidance. Mental injury is often difficult to prove, and therefore, child protective services may not be able to intervene without evidence of harm or mental injury to the child. Emotional abuse is almost always present when other types of maltreatment are identified. (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2015).

The term mental injury is associated with parental behavior that is so frightening, overwhelming, or threatening that it can damage a child’s developing brain.

Domestic Violence

Even reasonable adults can disagree and find themselves yelling, name calling, shutting down or engaging in other behaviors that challenge healthy family functioning. Domestic violence, on the other hand, happens when a family member’s behavior, actual or threatened, causes another to fear for their personal safety or well-being. When a child witnesses an incident of domestic violence, and especially if domestic violence occurs as a part of a pattern of family behavior, domestic violence harms a child. Domestic violence can not only impact the safety and well-being of a child, it can damage a child’s developing brain, and interfere with healthy development.

Mental injury includes a child who was present (sight or sound) during a domestic violence incident. Mandated reporters are required to report suspicion or knowledge of mental injury and thus, should be reporting children who witness or are exposed to domestic violence.

Psychological Maltreatment

Psychological maltreatment usually means that the child receives, sees, or hears repeated inappropriate emotional displays or language by the parent or guardian. This may include fighting, yelling, name-calling, and threats to either the child or another family member. On the other hand, there may be no overt abuse — no yelling, no name-calling — but also no warmth or concern for the child. Children who have all their physical needs met but are emotionally neglected may fail to develop the ability to form a trusting, loving bond with anyone.

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