The Significance of Abuse in Black Families : An Annotated Bibliography


By Bre’ Nicole J

Child abuse and incest within black families often times is not discussed among family members or in the community. Child maltreatment includes neglect, sexual abuse, and physical abuse. Child neglect is a widespread pandemic, commonly reported to social services.  To bring awareness  of child abuse and the adverse effects it leaves on children and their families it is important to  recognize some of the causes.

Advocates of families and children must work together to solve and prevent the causes of child maltreatment by providing resources that acknowledge risk factors. Any form of child abuse can have long term effects on a child and may lead  to a disturbance of the functionality of a family.

What are some of the triggers that lead to child abuse (physical, verbal, negligent, and sexual) in black families that create unbreakable cycles and how can families build resilience? Prior  research shows families that have a low socioeconomic status, endure marital problems, have blended families, are unemployed, and suffer from substance abuse are at risk for committing child abuse or have child abuse occur in their homes.

After completing and analyzing research from academic articles, the research from this paper  will highlight other suspected causes of abuse in the family and focus on prevention strategies to  help family members deal with negative stressors that may contribute to child abuse and build  resilience to sustain a healthy family.

Dr. Jessica Henderson Daniel is an Associate Professor of Psychology in the Department  of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. She is the Director of Training in Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, while she is being the Associate Director of the Leadership Education in Adolescent Health.

Dr. Daniel is the first African American elected on the APA Board of Directors. As a member on the Board of Directors for the American Psychological Association, Dr. Daniel initiated the formation of a Task Force on Resilience and Strength in Black Children and Adolescents. Dr. Daniel has dedicated and researched much of her work on minorities, fighting for gender equality and the paradox associated amongst the black community. She has implemented various leadership forums focusing on mentoring women of color venturing into psychology.

The scholarly article focuses on reported child abuse and accidents that occur in black families and how child maltreatment stems from a lack of economic resources and a vicious cycle that parents have considered as corporal punishment. The target audience include counselors, family life educators, physicians, psychologists, social workers, and parents.

Families of child abuse were assessed in the research conducted by Dr. Daniel and her team. There were 402 families with children around the age of four evaluated. Race, socioeconomic status, and age were used as control variables to conduct the study. All of the families included in this study were families already seen by a clinician or had a child being hospitalized by some sort of injury due to child abuse, illness, or an accidental injury.

Child abuse is normally suspected when authorities from law enforcement, child protective services, or clinicians have suspicion (Daniel, Hampton, & Newberger, 1983). Suspicion of child abuse can be seen from injuries on a child or verbally by a family member or parent (Daniel et al., 1983). An assessment can be performed by a clinician that may draw the conclusion of child abuse (Daniel et al., 1983). Because most clinicians are paid on a fee to service basis, there are cases when clinicians may not impose the question of if the parent is purposely hurting the child or if there is abuse occurring in the home (Daniel et al., 1983).

Black children were twice as likely to be a victim of child abuse and suffer severe bodily injuries compared to white children (Daniel et al., 1983). Black children also receive less help for their injuries due to abuse or accidents and incidents that occur in the family (Daniel et al., 1983). The National Black Child Development Institute recognized that black children suffer from poorer health, unsafe housing, and lack nutritional compared to other American peers (Daniel et al., 1983).

Because family violence in black families can be misleading and misrepresented, researchers Cazanave and Straus studied another study conducted in 1976 survey consisting of 2,143 black families , misrepresenting white families with a number of 427 (Daniel et al., 1983).  What was found deemed black husbands to be more violent to their wives yet showed little difference of family violence among white and black children (Daniel et al., 1983).

However because the forms of abuse were different and still quite underrepresented in number, occurrence, cause and did not focus on the correlation of child abuse, no conclusion could be made (Daniel et al., 1983). The National Study of the Incidence and Severity of Child Abuse suggest that even for white children that came from a lower income household, child maltreatment was prevalent and higher than those children who lived in an upper-class family (Daniel et al., 1983). However, black children were considered to experience child maltreatment at higher levels than their white lower class peers (Daniel et al., 1983).

The study only evaluated reported child abuse in the family due to victims being seen by a clinician who was willing to do an examination and assessment. Reports of abuse were only obtained if  a final hospital diagnosis claimed child abuse at the time of examination (Daniel et al, 1983). There was no evidence of abuse being underreported or not reported at all, in which the numbers of the study may or may not be higher.  This does not mean that children seen by clinicians at the time were not being abused in more ways than one or being abused at all.

The study did not break down the findings of its statistics based on gender equality, interpreting the reports of boys being abused and girls being abused.  The article, Child abuse and accidents in black families: a controlled comparative study was used in this paper to make inclusions about why child abuse whether sexual abuse, physical abuse, and neglect may be underreported and misrepresented in black families. Many of the children evaluated came from families on welfare (Daniel et al., 1983).  Low income and poverty was  finding that influenced children being abused in their families (Daniel et al., 1983).

Women of color (black) are more likely to be abused sexually in their families compared to white women (Amodeo, Griffin, Fassler, Clay, & Ellis, 2006). Objectively, there are many factors that may influence this phenomenon, including  a history of family violence, African Americans families not having intervention and prevention resources ridding child abuse,  stress, and low income.

Maryann Amodeo, a professor of Clinical Practice of Social Work at Boston University, is one of the authors of Childhood Sexual Abuse Among Black Women and White Women From Two-Parent Families. Maryann Amodeo received her MSW (Masters of Social Work) from Syracuse University and a Ph.D. in health policy and planning from Brandeis University.

As Chair of the department of Clinical Practice at Boston University, much of her current and prior research has focused on alcohol and drug addictions, substance abuse treatment, health services research in substance abuse, child welfare, training of social service and health professionals, and culturally responsive social work practice. Presently, Dr. Amodeo is the consulting Editor for Families in Society and a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions  and Substance Abuse. In 2012, she was presented with the Outstanding Contributions to the Boston University School of Social Work award, given to her by the School of Social Work Alumni Association.

In Childhood Sexual Abuse Among Black Women and White Women From Two-Parent Families, Dr. Amodeo and her team of researchers reviewed research from studies that explored the differences in experiences associated in child sexual abuse between Black women and White women. Researchers analyzed and compared differences from a sample of 290 women, black and white, that were raised in a two-parent family, whether biological or blended. The study was conducted using self-administered questionnaires and interviews from victims of child sexual abuse.The siblings of the victims were also used in obtaining information.  The siblings that were considered for eligibility had to be 21 years of age or older and  lived with the victim  for at least 4 years when the victim was between the ages of 6 and 13.

In the study, the number of women evaluated for the study are  misrepresented. The study also only compared black women who experienced child sexual abuse with white women. No other race was included in the study. There could be a significant change of information if the study included women of all races and did not focus only on receiving information from women who were the age of 21 to 65 years old. The study also left out women who were not just born in the United States but perhaps moved to the United States at a young age. Overall the study left various room for rising concerns on if the statistics were proven credible. The study was subjective in thought not considering if men were also being sexually abused as children or if there were women perpetrators committing the offense.

However, the differences in family structure were taken into account, considering the study examined women of child sexual abuse growing up in a two parent home.  A  dyadic relationship between women raised in a biological parental setting or came from  a stepparent environment was obtained in the study (Amodeo et al., 2006).

What was not taken into account as a study sample were women who lived in a two parent home with an aunt and uncle, grandmother and grandfather, older sibling, or  foster parent. Amodeo (2006), suggests that the findings from the research are difficult to interpret because of the lack of samples, that provided a variety of child sexual abuse characteristics with a limited amount of women examined. Researchers have argued that child sexual abuse among Black women may be higher from what previous studies have shown because of the mistrust and dissonance created between Black families, the police and social service agencies (Wyatt, 1992 and Amodeo, 2006).

Findings in the study conducted by Amodeo showed Black women reporting more child sexual abuse involving a stepfather, mother’s boyfriend, foster father, male cousin, and other relatives compared to white women (Amodeo, 2006). A factor that plays into the significance of black women being exposed to higher risk of child sexual abuse by men who are not their biological fathers, is the decline of marriage in the African American community (Abney & Preist, 1995).

Amodeo’s study continued to evaluate Wyatt’s 1985 compared to Bolen’s (1998) that  found  White women were more likely to experience child sexual abuse during their early childhood contrast to Black women who were more likely to experience sexual abuse during adolescence (Amodeo et al., 2006). What’s interesting to note is that the perpetrator of the victim is more likely to be the same race (Amodeo et al., 2006).

Since the early 1980s, Russell has conducted controlled studies of child sexual abuse comparing White women and Black women (Amodeo et al., 2006). The differences of child sexual abuse within these races were not significantly different statistically, which may have been due to the differences in family structure (Amodeo et al., 2006).

In his findings, Russell (1986) reported incest among 17% of White women and 16% of Black women (Amodeo et al., 2006). Although the review of the study, conducted by Russell, states there is not a significant difference in the random probability sample, (Russell, 1983) the numbers are highly misrepresented. The study by Russell leaves error for fallacy with  627 White women being evaluated and only 89 Black women (Amodeo et al., 2006).

The selected article was aimed to find if child sexual abuse was higher in black families compared to other families. Because of the misrepresentation of race groups as well as the evasiveness of numbers in the sample group, sufficient evidence could not prove the significance.

When a child experiences trauma,  the brain undergoes stress (O’Hara, Legano, Homel, Walker-Descartes, Rojas, & Laraque, 2015). Neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse impose various traumatic experiences that can cause a wide range of effects on cognitive and behavioral development in the brain (Egeland, Sroufe, & Erickson, 1983; Pears et al., 2008; Trickett and McBride-Chang, 1995).

Mandy O’Hara, an assistant professor of pediatrics, focuses much of her research on child neglect, physical abuse, and developmental and academic outcomes. She spent many years  working as as a general pediatrician for foster children at The Children’s Aid Society and completed The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education   in Child Abuse Pediatrics. She currently serves as a faculty member at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York as a Medical Director of The Child and Family Support Program. In 2014, O’Hara won an Academic Excellence Award  from Mailman School of Public Health.

The article benefits health and family professions drawing the correlation between children who grow up in healthy environments that have higher levels of success in school performance because of cognitive development compared to children who live in an abusive home. The article serves as a great resource tool for family life educators or professions in the social services to help at risk families understand why it is important for their child to live in an environment that fulfills Maslow’s Basic Human Needs principle. After reading the article human social service providers may be better equipped to provide at risk families with additional help.

In the research article, Children Neglected: Where cumulative risk theory fails, O’Hara  conducted a of study 1,354 children enrolled in the Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN), who were maltreated or at risk for maltreatment (O’Hara et al., 2015). Researchers followed each child in five regions of the United States every two years until the age of 18 (O’Hara et al., 2015) . Children in the study only qualified “if they were reported to the child welfare system in the first four years of life for allegations of neglect or  neglect and physical abuse; and (2)they were being evaluated through the age 6 and had recorded test scores on the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence Revised” (O’Hara, 2015).  There were only two independent variables–neglect  only and neglect and physical abuse (O’Hara, 2015).

O’Hara (2015) states that multiple maltreatment happens frequently but is underrecognized in literature. If a child is experiencing one form of abuse , than more than likely other forms of abuse are happening within the home (O’Hara et al., 2015). The 2012 National Data on The Incidence of Child Maltreatment reported multiple maltreatment as common (O’Hara et al., 2015). . Child neglect in the study was defined as  lack of supervision from caregiver or failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, hygiene, or health care (O’Hara et al, 2015). Physical abuse was labeled as diverse acts of inflicted harm, including but not limited to : bruises, welts, lacerations, fractures, internal injuries, burns, and head injuries(O’Hara et al., 2015).

Even though there were  more males in the neglect and physical abuse groups, the female group with  neglect and physical abuse did not significantly change in number (O’Hara et al., 2015). The male group had 57% children affected, while the female group had 48% affected by both (O’Hara et al, 2015). The neglect only group had higher rates of minority children compared to the neglect and physical abuse group (O’Hara et al., 2015). There was a  76% versus 63% difference ( O’Hara et al., 2015).

Contrary to the study conducted by O’Hara and her team of researchers,  177 children,  between the ages of 3-30 experiencing neglect and  lower body weight, were recruited from a black clinic and assessed at the ages of six (O’Hara et al., 2015). The  study confirmed that children who suffered from neglect and failure to thrive faced impaired cognitive development (O’Hara et al., 2015). Children who experience multiple forms of maltreatment also suffer significantly in school from behavioral problems ( O’Hara et al., 2015).

O’Hara’s study compared to Dr. Daniel’s “Child abuse and accidents in black families: a controlled comparative study” showed statistics that minority children experienced higher levels of neglect and physical abuse compared to other races. Although statistically the numbers were different in both studies due to limitations on each study, there was not a significant difference. Because family life educators are advocates of the family’s overall well being,  it is important to understand when a parent may be at risk in becoming abusive to a child due to negative stressors in life.

The next article will evaluate potential risk factors that lead to  child abuse.  It will also define emotional and psychological abuse , which has a direct influence on a child’s sense of worth and self-esteem.

As the Director of Child and Adolescent Services and the Director of the Child Anxiety Clinic at The Family Institute, Danielle A. Black has dedicated her research to  family violence, children’s adjustment to marital functioning, family therapy. She received her PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in 2006.

Dr. Black  has worked at institutions such as The Kennedy Krieger Institute of Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Dr. Black’s has  training in Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT), Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).  Her trainings in Cognitive-Behavior Therapy  and family therapy have provided an effective treatment for children and families coping with anxiety.

The following study from Risk factors for child psychological abuse  is for parents, family life educators and counselors to understand the dynamic role emotional abuse has over a child, as well as the risk factors that cause emotional abuse.

Children that come from lower income families are at increased risk for child psychological abuse (Black, Smith, & Heyman, 2000). Psychological abuse is ambiguous form of maltreatment, because it is difficult  to define and measure (Black, Smith, &Heyman, 2000). Literature on the risk for child psychological abuse is not as clear compared child physical abuse and neglect, which is why the method of reviewing studies that met a controlled variable were used for the study  (Black et al., 2000).

Each study had to meet the following : “ (a) were published in a psychological, medical, sociological journal or book, (b) provided enough statistical information that the information could be meaningfully analyzed (e.g., conducted statistical analyses comparing abused versus non-abused groups, provided more information than statistical significance levels), (c) employed either a representative community sample or a clinical sample with an appropriate control group (i.e., non-abusive mothers or non-abused children), and (d) isolated child psychological abuse specifically (e.g., child psychological abuse versus global child maltreatment)” (Black et al., 2000).

Dr. Black found in previous studies and her own that child aggression is related to child psychological abuse (Black et al., 2000). Child delinquency is also related to child psychological abuse (Black et al., 2000). Children who experienced some form of emotional abuse had emotionally abusive mothers who were not receiving support or affection from their husbands (Black et al., 2000).  There was also physical abuse in the home between the mom and the dad (Black et al., 2000). A 1997 study from the article showed that if a family’s income was below $15,000, psychological abuse was more prevalent in the home compared to families with higher earnings (Black et al., 2015).

For racial identity, children were grouped by their preferred race (Black et al., 2000).  Children categorized as “other” for race showed high levels of being at risk for child psychological abuse compared to white, black, and Hispanic children (Black et al., 2000). In contrast to the findings of Amodeo’s study,  psychological abuse found in children is not related to family structure when evaluating other forms of abuse in the family (Black et al., 2000 ; Amodeo et al., 2006).

Psychological abuse is however associated with how parents were treated as children (Black et al., 2000). “Parents who were yelled at daily as children were more likely to yell at their children compared to those who were yelled at less often as children” ( Black et al., 2000). Parents who were psychologically abusive to their children came from less caring and affectionate homes,  compared to non-abusive parents (Black et al., 2000).

The study was too ambiguous. The only controlled variables were the literature pieces and studies previously evaluated, that had the same control variables, which gave a perceived biaism toward the study being examined. Conclusions from the study are limited (Black et al., 2000). The study being evaluated was also hard to measure.  The purpose of reviewing the study was to understand some of the risk factors that influence child abuse.

Masten & Wright (2010), provide information on growing research  that shows a vast majority of children who experience chronic maltreatment and abuse develop normally and do not repeat patterns of violence (Black et al., 2001). Resilience defined by mayo clinic is the ability to adapt to life’s misfortunes and setbacks.  “The study of resilience began in the late 1970s with independent longitudinal studies of child populations exposed to heightened levels of family and community risk factors such as the mental illness of a parent (Rutter, 1990), poverty (Werner & Smith, 1982) and racial marginalization (McCubbin et al., 1998).

The following study chosen was used to  find ways black children  could build resilience from maltreatment and abuse. Professionals working with families need to  find healthy solutions and positive coping skills for parents and children for a sustaining and satisfying parent-child relationship.

Claudia Bernard, the Head of Postgraduate Research in the Department of Social, Therapeutic and Community Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London, has dedicated her work on the intersection of race, gender, social class, and child and family welfare. Bernard has also engaged in research on how a mother reacts in response to her child being sexually abused.

Her interests include understanding violence and abuse that impact children in families. She currently teaches undergraduate and postgraduate courses, while supervising PhD students. Bernard recently completed a two-year study, examining Diversity and Progression Among Social Work Students in England. The study’s particular focus was on the barriers black, ethnic minority groups,  disabled, lesbian, gay and bisexual students  faced in the social work programs while in  England.

It is imperative for survivors of abuse to tell their story in order to begin the healing process (Bernard, ). “Recounting events about childhood trauma and being able to tell your own story, to make sense of past experiences, are considered essential in the recovery process for promoting psychological well-being”. Children being abused need to feel safe speaking with a professional in order to begin the healing process (Bernard, 2001) .

Because any form of abuse can rid a child of his or her self esteem and self worth, professionals must reiterate to the child that he or she is valuable. In the black community, racism continues to plague the lives of many.  The mistrust of police and authority figures in the black community along with being in abusive home can give a black child a negative image on speaking up.

Black children may feel greater levels of pressure with facing scrutiny and social racism which poses the reason for black children not wanting to discuss abuse in their families (Bernard,2001 ). “ In healthy black families, parents work doubly hard to provide guidance and support to counteract the negative evaluations that undermine their children’s positive self-esteem.

However, in dysfunctional and abusive families this may not be taking place, and indeed, the actions of abusive parents may be actively reinforcing children’s feelings of poor self-worth, leading to a threat to their emotional well-being”. Children need to feel loved, safe, and secure. By opening the levels of communication within the family, parents can create a healthy environment for their children.

“How black children heal from traumatic episodes will be essentially bound up with their perceptions of themselves and their resilience mechanisms”(Bernard, 2001) . When children in general are not given positive coping skills to overcome a crisis or trauma, the risk factors of poor choices in life increase. Family educators must aide children with how to come up with better solutions to overcome trauma while talking on which ways the trauma affected the child. Family educators must also work on receiving the support of the community and government in providing low cost or free parenting classes for parents that are in low incomes and have came from an abusive home themselves.

Physical abuse and sexual abuse is used as a method to have control. When a person is being abused , it is  about power, dominance, and control . Some of the history in why sexual abuse and physical abuse is an occurrence in black families today’s may lie in the history of slavery. “ Sexual abuse was a prominent feature of the enslavement of African women in the United States. They were systematically impregnated by their owners and at their owner’s request, by other slaves in order to produce children that were sold, worked, or in turn bred to raise other slaves” (Smith, 2006). Objectification of women black and white may also play a role leading up to abusive behavior seen in the black family. Unfortunately there is not enough information to conclude why abuse is such a phenomenon in black families, why it is not readily discussed when studies that examine the abuse  have drawn conclusions of black children being  more at risk for maltreatment. There are indications from research that black children are disproportionately represented in the child abuse services.

*All rights to the above writing material belong to the publisher of the article. For any information on retaining  copy of this research please address the publisher by email at


Amodeo, M., Griffin, M.L., Fassler, I.R., Clay, C.M., & Ellis, M.A. (2006). Childhood sexual abuseamong black women and white women from two-parent families. Child Maltreatment : Sage Journals  11(3), 237-246. http://dx.doi: 10.1177/1077559506289186

Bernard, C. (2002).  Giving voice to experiences: parental maltreatment of black children in the context of societal racism. Child & Family Social Work 7(4) 239-251

Black, D.A., Smith Slep, A.M., & Heyman, R.E. (2001). Risk factors for family violence. Agression   and Violent Behavior. 6(3), 189-20

Daniel, J.H., Hampton, R.L., & Newberger, E.H. (1983). Child abuse and accidents in black families: a controlled comparative study. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 53(4), 645-653.http://dx. doi : 10.1111/j.1939-0025.1983.tb03408.x

O’Hara, M., Legano, L., Homel, P., Walker-Descartes, I., Rojas, M., & Laraque, D. (2015). Children neglected: Where cumulative risk theory fails. 45 (8), 1-8

Smith, B.V. (2006) Sexual abuse of women in United States prisons : A modern corollary ofslavery. Women in prisons p. 571-607


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