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The story of Mary Ellen

This short video by Professor Kerryann Walsh describes the origins of the child protection movement.

In the nineteenth century, mistreatment of children at the hands of their parents was not uncommon, and the cases were rarely acted upon by the courts. This video tells the story of a landmark case that started the social and political movement for child protection.

Unkempt nineteenth century girl with visible bruises and whip marks Smiling nineteenth century girl wearing a clean dress and boots Mary Ellen Wilson before and after intervention. (Image courtesy of The George Sim Johnston Archives of The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children)

What is child abuse?

The terms child abuse and child maltreatment are generally used interchangeably and describe a variety of adverse childhood experiences (ACE).

Defining child abuse can be difficult, because there is always some area of uncertainty between what is and what is not abusive. There are many disagreements about acceptable and non-acceptable treatment of children. One example of this is smacking. Although physical punishment of children is still acceptable in our society, physical abuse of children is not’ (Kay, 2003, p.6).
There are four maltreatment subtypes:
  • physical abuse
  • emotional abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • neglect.
Sometimes, witnessing or exposure to family violence is considered maltreatment too.

What is child protection?

Aside from the social and political movement mentioned, child protection includes those measures taken by professionals to act ‘directly as a barrier between children and significant harm’ (Thorpe, 1994, p.198).
In Queensland, the term harm is used in legislation and policy.
(1) Harm to a child, is any detrimental effect of a significant nature on the child’s physical, psychological or emotional wellbeing.
(2) It is immaterial how the harm is caused.
(3) Harm can be caused by:
physical, psychological or emotional abuse or neglect; or
sexual abuse or exploitation.
(4) Harm can be caused by:
a single act, omission or circumstance; or
a series or combination of acts, omissions or circumstances.
Child Protection Act 1999 (Qld), s 9.

Harm of a significant nature does not include trivial instances or what you may consider to be ‘less-than-ideal parenting.

This article is from the free online

Child Protection for Teachers

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FutureLearn - Learning For Life

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