a1 School of Social Welfare, University of California, Los Angeles
The term “child maltreatment” is of relatively recent origin in its present usage: an umbrella term to refer to a variety of phenomena, child abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and subcategories of these, including “emotional abuse” and “emotional neglect.” As such, it carries with it all of the definitional ambiguities and confusion of the terms designating the subcategories. The emphasis in this discussion is not on what is “psychological,” but rather what is “maltreatment”? However “psychological” might be defined, or whatever phenomena are subsumed under it, the first issue is the criteria under which these might be considered as “maltreatment.” Ultimately, the utility of any definition lies in the purposes for which the classification is being made. Wisely, McGee and Wolfe (1991) point to this in their opening statements in referring to “the diverse reasons for classifying psychological maltreatment” and delineate “clinical assessment and intervention and legal and statutory requirements,” as distinct from their own purpose, “to develop conceptual and operational definitions of psychological maltreatment that are suitable for research purposes.” Clarification of the different purposes of defining “mal-treatment” can avoid contamination of irrelevancies pertinent to one purpose but not another. Toward that end, I examine Address reprint requests to: Jeanne Giovannoni, School of Social Welfare, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90024. the definitional purposes and issues in one of the cited arenas, the “statutory and legal.” Historically, that designation of “child maltreatment” precedes both the clinical and the research endeavors. Historical precedence carries with it the danger that subsequent definers, pursuing the term for different purposes, might contaminate their own pursuits by carrying over connotations of the term inappropriate to their purposes.
c1 Address reprint requests to: Jeanne Giovannoni, School of Social Welfare, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90024.