• Amy J.L. Baker

Yesterday I took a walk around my neighborhood and passed a mother who was bustling out of her home, clearly stressed and unhappy. Her teenage daughter left the house a moment later, glum and tentative. As the mother approached where I was, she called over her shoulder to her daughter, admonishing her in a harsh tone. She yelled a variety of unkind and curse words at her daughter and threatened her loudly to get her act together. My heart went out to the teen who was being treated in such a harsh and demeaning way by her mother and in front of a stranger, me. As the mother approached me, I felt her hot glare at me seeming to dare me to say something about her behavior which was in her opinion obviously none of my business. I shrank in response to her hostility and went on my way with my walk. The experience brought to my mind the idea that my colleague Marla Brassard introduced me to of being an "upstander" as opposed to a "bystander." Being an "upstander" means standing up for children as opposed to just standing by while a child is being treated badly. Even though I had attended the training on what it means to be an upstander, I still did not feel comfortable -- in the heat of the moment -- to say something to this woman. I realize that I have some work to do in my personal journey as an upstander. One thought that comes to my mind is that perhaps I could have offered to help the mother -- she was clearly stressed about something. Perhaps if I started by thinking about her well-being, I would have had a foothold into the family and would have been in a better position to comment about her harsh treatment of her child. This is a good reminder that the child resides in the context of a family (and community) and that one way to help children is to help their parents. This is the lesson that Dr. Fontana himself wrote about so many years ago and is as relevant today as it was then.

The Psychological Maltreatment Alliance in collaboration with APSAC’s Child Policy Center has formed a new committee devoted to the topic of psychological maltreatment. The Child Policy Center’s mission is to translate research into useable resources that promote evidence-informed policy-making and best practices for professionals involved in the field of child maltreatment. The newly formed committee is comprised of many of the thought leaders and national and international experts in the area of psychological maltreatment.


The committee has met twice and identified three specific policy areas to focus on.

The first of the three identified policy topics wrestle with definitional issues with the goal of developing a single consensus model definition of psychological maltreatment that can be used in State statutes and for training CPS workers and other professionals in the field of child maltreatment. The second focus of the committee will be a review of State statutes with respect to legal definitions of psychological maltreatment with an eye toward identifying and developing a model State statute. The third area of the committee’s focus will be on developing a collaboration with leaders of the National School Board Association. It is the intention of this policy issue to seek partners within the school board community to disseminate information about psychological maltreatment and its effects to school personnel in order to protect children from the most harmful impact of psychological maltreatment exhibited by parents.

In February the Psychological Maltreatment Alliance hosted a two-day train-the-trainer event at the Fontana Center in New York City. We hosted 2-3 individuals from each of 7 agencies to participate in an intensive training on the topic of psychological maltreatment. Participants came from a variety of agencies throughout the city including Healthy Families, Administration for Children's Services, and Child Welfare Organizations. Two participants came from Indiana to see whether they wanted to bring a two-day event back to their home agencies. We began the 2-day event by presenting a 2-hour curriculum (which is what they would eventually bring to their agencies/communities) and then spent the remainder of the two days developing a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of PM so that when the participants returned to their home agencies/communities they would be well prepared to not only deliver the 2-hour curriculum but they would also be able to address most concerns/questions raised by the individuals whom they trained. Topics covered in the training included the forms/types that PM can take, risk factors, the harm to children associated with PM, prevalence of PM, and theory of prevention/intervention. Over the course of the two days, participants practiced identifying PM in various vignettes, discussed what it means to be an "upstander" instead of a bystander, reviewed principles of positive parenting, and explored some specific ways that they can address PM in their personal and professional lives. From the beginning, the energy in the room was amazing as everyone engaged deeply with the material. Each participant was a highly committed professional in the field of child maltreatment and yet many felt that at least some of the information covered was new to them. The trainers ended the two-day experience with lots of ideas and excellent feedback about how to improve both the 2-hour curriculum as well as the two-day train-the-trainer event. We look forward to working with the participants to plan and implement their own training on PM to their colleagues, staff, and clients. Through this process, we can expand the number of people ready and able to provide research-informed and practical information about this insidious and still misunderstood form of child maltreatment.

©2019 by Psychological Maltreatment Alliance