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More Research Needed on Child Abuse and Neglect

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Kaplan also proposes more long-term studies. But the complications of carrying out such research may be an integral part of the problem, says David A. Wolfe, PhD, from the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario. "It's tough stuff to follow people over long periods to see the long-term effects of intervention. Politicians don't want to wait that long to see results."

Wolfe, who has been part of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) panel that reviews research applications on neglect and abuse, finds that few applications are actually received and most are rarely funded. "No one goes into this anymore. It's difficult to meet the high standards of an NIMH clinical trial," Wolfe tells WebMD.

"Researchers like myself are doing what they can given small budgets available," says Wolfe. Wolfe currently gives foundations more credit than government sources in supporting research for the prevention of child abuse. "It's a frustrating situation. Child abuse is everyone's distant cousin and no one's baby."

The researchers also highlight that there are many definitions of abuse and neglect, and this can lead to failure in identifying the exact type of abuse the child experienced. Sherryl S. Heller, PhD, a researcher in child abuse at Tulane University Medical Center in New Orleans, agrees with Kaplan. "After reviewing the literature, we found it's a pretty big problem. Until we can define things the same way, the conclusions we draw are going to be somewhat questionable because we don't have consistent classifications," Heller tells WebMD.

Heller finds that, due to legal reasons, physically abused children are in some cases classified as neglected. She has also observed that children may be classified in different categories depending on who reports the abuse, be it parent, teacher, or physician. And if there's more than one report, that's important, says Heller.

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