Castles Made of Sand? Rediscovering Child Abuse and Society’s Response

95 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2010 Last revised: 11 Jan 2011

Date Written: October 6, 2010


It has long been recognized that stress, unemployment, and financial problems are risk factors for child abuse. Not surprisingly, as the economy has deteriorated, reports of and attention to child abuse have increased. Society has come a long way from the “Mary Ellen Wilson” era of the 1870s when the detection of child abuse was sporadic and random, with poorly-suited tools borrowed to craft a response. But child abuse has now for almost 150 years been widely recognized as a recurrent, pervasive problem with potentially tragic short- and long-term consequences for a staggering number of children that calls for a well conceived and executed societal response. The consensus is, however, that society is neither adequately preventing or identifying child abuse, nor appropriately responding to the needs of abused children. This Article provides an extensive and comprehensive review of society’s response to child abuse, including legislative efforts to redress it. In particular, this Article describes (1) the nature and impact of child abuse and the factors that contribute to it, (2) the evolution of this country’s response to child abuse and how we currently address it, and (3) how this country can and must do better. As has often been noted, a society should be measured by how well it treats its most vulnerable citizens. Preventing and appropriately responding to child abuse should be at the top of any ordered society’s agenda.

Keywords: Child Abuse, State and Federal Child Abuse Laws, Domestic Violence, Children and the Family, Prevalence, Causes, Impact of Child Abuse, Historical and Current Societal Responses to Child Abuse, Child Protective Services, Mandatory Reporting, Investigations of Reports of Child Abuse, Foster Care

Suggested Citation

Hafemeister, Thomas L., Castles Made of Sand? Rediscovering Child Abuse and Society’s Response (October 6, 2010). Ohio Northern University Law Review, Vol. 36, p. 819, 2010, Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2010-13, Available at SSRN:

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