Book review: Understanding Child Abuse by Terry Philpot

Understanding Child Abuse

Terry Philpot, Routledge

ISBN 9780415456005

It has been the welfare and protection of children that has interested Terry Philpot the most over his long career. In this new volume, Philpot goes beyond the traumas, adoption, and placements of some children to take a closer look at the “secondary victimhood” experienced by their mothers. He interviews seven of them, while bringing out the stories of two male abusers as well.

He correctly identifies the mothers as people who have only too easily dropped out of the picture of modern stereotypes of child abuse. Less care and thought is given to their plight than to the plight of the abuser, and far, far less than to that of the abused child.

Their guilt in not having spotted and stopped the abuse is tangible throughout the interviews: one of the women sums it up when her child tells her she feels sorry for her. Why? “My hell is over. Your hell is starting.” Yet, as he points out in his introduction, mothers have a critical role to play in their children’s rehabilitation, and sometimes in that of the abusers.

This is an excellent, mild corrective for busy social workers inevitably focused on the child at hand, as well as for their managers charged with taking the wider view.

Drew Clode is policy/press adviser for the Association of Directors of Adults Social Services

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