|A Review of "Women and Children at Risk: A Feminist Perspective on Child Abuse"
|| PRINTABLE VERSION
| Article Review
Stark, Evan and Anne H. Flitcraft. (1988). Women and Children at Risk: A Feminist Perspective on Child Abuse. In E. Fee and N. Krieger (Eds.), (1994) Women’s Health, Politics, and Power: Essays on Sex/Gender, Medicine, and Public Health. (p. 307-331). Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing.
I chose this article because several parts related strongly to the child abuse and neglect prevention project that I am currently working on. Although my knowledge of the project is limited due to my position, my participation focuses strongly on the interview process, the collection of data and the data management. I am primarily responsible for interacting with parents and their children both in the pediatric ambulatory clinic and the Center for Families where the interviewing takes place.
In my own job at a child abuse and neglect prevention project, women with children under the age of five voluntarily agree to participate in an interview process over a six-month period in which questions are asked regarding their child’s health, behavior, eating and what services they may be receiving. Similar questions are asked regarding themselves, including feelings of possible depression, alcohol and/or drug use, and violence. They are compensated for their time, which is about four hours total over the six-month period, by $60 in cash and a $50 gift certificate to Safeway, with the possibility of winning a $300, $150, or $75 from a raffle drawing once every six months. These women are predominately poor, Black and dependent on some form of assistance such as medical assistance, food stamps, WIC, or Section-8 Housing.
When I first joined the Project, I believed that my assistance would help these women, and in many ways I am sure I have. For instance, when they want to elaborate on an issue going on in their home, I am an ear; when they are looking for money to go back to school, I am a resource. But by supporting the institution and hierarchy that keeps them dependent, I find myself to also be a part of the problem. For I am a White, middle-class college student studying their interaction with their children, judging their parenting ability, questioning their home life and probing into perhaps traumatic previous experiences. For every glance they give their child, for every positive comment they make, for the attention that they pay me, and for every question that they answer correctly according to a scale created by other White scholars, they receive another point that is weighed by the maximum points possible.
In Feminist Perspectives on Child Abuse, I saw similarities in the judgement of researchers in mothers showing nurturance to their children. For instance, on page 318, Stark and Flitcraft point out that “the normalization of mothering and the extension of patterns presumed to typify middle-class (i.e. healthy) families to assessments of behavior among working-class, minority or poor women is the ground on which pediatrics, social and protective services shift child abuse from the realm of politics to pathology and “re-cognize” the violent suppression of women and children as a deficit in women’s ability to parent (321).
Later, Stark and Flitcraft say that “providers require periodic displays of nurturance and homemaker efficiency as prerequisites for basic family support. In many cases, the mother does not report the abusing male and the caseworker lists the source of violence as ‘unknown’ or ‘other.’ This may be because the woman defines the worker as her adversary, is afraid of the batterer’s retaliation, or fears the withdrawal of welfare benefits if her relation with an unrelated man is discovered.” It goes on to say that “since there are no therapeutic modalities to deal with men, foster placement…is more likely when a man is battering the mother and child. Not only are the mothers who pose least danger to their children most likely to lose them, but they may also lose access to whatever meager resources resulted from agency concern. With foster placement, the therapeutic focus shifts from the natural parents onto the child and his or her new future, while the underlying problems, including any violence towards the mother, are ignored.”
In understanding child abuse and neglect from specifically a Black perspective, cultural, racial, and class divisions lead to misconceptions about the extent of the problem. Women of color are often torn between reporting domestic or child abuse to law enforcement, having to decide between protecting their community or their own families’ safety. “Women who are members of marginalized communities may have valid reasons to distrust law enforcement officials and be reluctant to fuel perceptions that their men are deviant or criminal” (Fisher-Hertz, 2003; p. 492). And launching a domestic or child abuse investigation forces these women to depend on social workers they previously regarded as the enemy.
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