IPT Book Reviews

Title: The APSAC Handbook on Child Maltreatment  Positive Review

John Briere, Lucy Berliner, Josephine A. Bulkley, Carole Jenny, and Theresa Reid

Publisher: Sage Publications, Inc., 1996

Sage Publications, Inc.
2455 Teller Rd.
Thousand Oaks, CA 91320
(805) 499-0721

This oversized 449-page book was written in cooperation with the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children in Michigan.  In 22 chapters, the editors, along with a variety of authors, attempt to cover the latest empirical research on selected topics.  David Finkelhor begins the introduction by stating that professional concern about child abuse "is not the product of some epidemic increase in the scope or nature of the problem.  It is rather the result of a broad social movement and a historic moral transformation" (p. ix).  Finkelhor briefly discusses the rise of a "child abuse backlash" from parents who believe they have suffered wrongful investigations and accusations.  He observes, however, that the backlash may have salutary effects and help correct problems in the child protection services.

Five chapters, each with self-selected references, make up the first section which is an overview on aspects of child maltreatment.  The chapters cover neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological maltreatment, and ritualistic abuse.  The first chapter, dealing with child neglect, notes that this may be the largest problem public welfare agencies face today.  Here we see the "individual pathology" approach versus the "social reform" school of thought.  The ritual abuse chapter, by Susan Kelley, reports on research on ritualistic abuse in day care centers that includes the Kelly Michaels and McMartin preschool cases along with others where it is doubtful that abuse occurred.  But Kelley does not acknowledge this.  Missing in this first section are discussions of mothers as aggressors, fatal abuse, sibling abuse, family preservation, cultural conflicts, and false memory issues.

The 5 chapters in the second section address treatment.  Most of this deals with professional therapy for abused children, adolescents, adult survivors, maltreating families, and sex offenders.  There is little discussion of evaluation for treatment, although the chapter on adolescents contains a discussion on assessment and notes that not all teenagers who have been sexually abused require treatment.  This section lacks a discussion of help for parents.

The third section contains three chapters on medical aspects of abuse.  The chapter on sexual abuse summarizes the current research and gives guidelines for reporting with various combinations of histories, statements, and physical findings.  The chapter on physical abuse addresses the differentiation between accidental and intentional trauma and the third chapter discusses medical neglect.  These three chapters provide current and useful information, although some contradictory research is omitted.

The four chapters in the fourth section are on the legal aspects of child abuse.  The section by Kenneth Lanning on the criminal investigations of suspected sexual abuse is perhaps the best part of the book.  The chapter by John Myers is also excellent.  Other chapters cover child abuse and neglect laws and legal proceedings and interviewing children.  There is no discussion of false memories of abuse or family rights.

Part five consists of two chapters on preventing and reporting child maltreatment and part six deals with four chapters on agency organization and delivery of services.  The book closes with an Epilogue by Richard Krugman which notes that in June, 1990 the US advisory board on Child Abuse and Neglect declared that the child protection system was a national emergency" (p. 420).  But perhaps the book's thrust and goal can be summarized in Patricia Schen's observation that "A cornerstone of today's child welfare system is the emphasis on the importance of the family and on the need to support and enhance rather than to hinder its capacities and competence (p 393).  The book closes with an author index and a subject index.

Shortcomings in the book include the lack of a chapter on false allegations, a discussion of legislation that has had unforeseen consequences, such as increased litigation, and a discussion of trauma or "system abuse" caused by child abuse investigations and decisions.  In addition, some chapters appear to focus on the weaknesses and problems of families and parents rather than strengths that could be harnessed.  Despite this, much of the book is useful.

Reviewed by LeRoy G. Schultz, Professor Emeritus, West Virginia University.

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