When does childhood punishment at the hands of a parent or caregiver cross the line and become child abuse? Depending on where you live, the legal definition may differ. But for a child, any abusive behavior can leave scars that last a lifetime.
Female Speaker: Stephanie started out as a foster parent but then quickly turned into mom legally and permanently. She adopted twin boys. They had spent the first two years of their lives in a home where they never knew if they were going to be fed again. Stephanie: To be neglected it does a lot to an infant the first couple years of life to have nobody to bond to, nobody to trust. You give me a bottle one day I might not have anything to eat the next two. Female Speaker: But Stephanie and her husband have worked hard to show the twins that they are safe now. Stephanie: Being able to reassure them to have some self-esteem and know that this is their house they don't know of any other home, they don't remember of any other home on a conscious level, but I think subconsciously, there is some remembrance there they might not have gotten food for a few days. Female Speaker: The abuse and neglect these twin boys suffered is something doctors and counselors see everyday. The level of abuse is different in each case but doctors say the impact can last a lifetime. Dr. Nancy Kellogg: Children believe the birth of adult and I think it's not until they have a fear of being severely beaten or a fear of being more severely sexually abused that they lose that faith in an adult. Female Speaker: Counseling will help the children, but the help only goes as far as the family responds. If the parents don't support and understand the need for a family counseling, the children may now be at even greater risk of being harmed. Dr. Nancy Kellogg: The ones I worry about again are the ones who are absolute, very isolated, enmeshed families. We raise our kids our way and no outsiders are going to tell us otherwise. Those are the ones I worry more about. Female Speaker: Two thirds of the children coming in to see Dr. Nancy Kellogg at her clinic in San Antonio, Texas are routinely hit with a belt or some type of object. While the determination of what is child abuse may vary from state to state, parents can rule themselves by a recent guideline from the American Academy of Pediatrics which states that any punishment that leaves a bruise or scar means you have gone too far. The AAP recommends using a form of discipline that does not involve spanking. This facility in Fort Lauderdale, Florida is called Kids in Distress. For many of the little ones here, this is the first safe environment they have ever known. Ellyn Okrent says despite the abuse they have suffered, these children still hope to live in a safe, loving environment. Ellyn Okrent: Children want to be good. Children want that sticker, they want that smiley face, they want that hug, and they want to be told how great they are. Female Speaker: In any physically abusive situation, many children feel like they are the one who has done something wrong. They don't understand it's crossed the legal line. Counselors say, in a child's mind, they don't want to get their parents in trouble with the police or the courts. Ellyn Okrent: Regardless of what we think, blood is thicker than water and children always will protect their parents. And in the beginning, they don't really understand that that's wrong because that's the way it is in their home. But then children learn that, hey, my dad's not supposed to touch me like that or hit me like that or hurt me like that, or my mom or whatever it is, or my mom's boyfriend, my mom should be protecting me but it's still my mother. Female Speaker: If a family doesn't get help, the future doesn't hold much promise for stopping the cycle of abuse. Stephanie adopted her boys while they were still toddlers, so in this case the boys will grow up in a happy home with hope for the future. Stephanie: They're the very friendly little boys. They're very outgoing. They're talkative. They went from having a year of speech therapy to grunting, pointing and biting to, you know, saying full seven and eight-word sentences. I consider them my boys, my children, my sons. I don't call them adoptive, foster; they're my boys, period.