Because child abuse is such a large topic and includes so many varied situations and circumstances under its broad area, there are numerous variables that could be at work within the family unit to contribute to the development of the abusive behavior(s). Identifying such characteristics presents many significant challenges.
Adults may abuse children because they were abused themselves as children or because they are not prepared or able to appropriately respond to the demands of being a child's guardian. Such individuals may refuse to answer questions or may provide false information in response to attempts to determine how their patterns of relating to the child, handling discipline, and meeting basic needs developed and are carried out. Abuses stemming from family dynamics situations (unplanned pregnancy, placement within the group of children, special needs of the child) may not be recognized or reported by the adult and may be denied if suggested by an outsider.
Adults who abuse substances as well as children may be unwilling or unable to provide accurate information about their habits. They may be attempting to hide the issue, may not recognize that their habit is causing problems in their relationship with their child(ren), may be trying to protect themselves from prosecution, or may be incapable of providing information due to impairment caused by the substance in question.
Families experiencing financial difficulties may attempt to disguise their circumstances through deceit, through frequent relocation, through illegal activities intended to hide the financial concerns and resulting frustrations. Children may be placed in the position of attempting to obtain money for the family through illegal means and may interpret this as becoming responsible for contributing to the family's support, not as a type of child endangerment.
These are some of the major challenges faced by those who are given the task of attempting to determine the causes of child abuse within a given family.