Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in MOTIVATION AND CHILD MALTREATMENT: VOLUME 46 OF THE NEBRASKA SYMPOSIUM ON MOTIVATION, ed. Richard Dienstbier and David J. Hansen. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2000. Pages 245-262. Copyright © 2000 University of Nebraska Press. Used by permission.


For almost a half-century, the Nebraska Symposium on Motivation has profiled many of the evolving themes and issues at the heart of psychology. It has also documented, less directly, changes in society. When the symposium was inaugurated in 1951, child maltreatment was a sad reality of life for many children, but it was not a topic of considerable professional attention. With the identification of the "battered child syndrome" (Kempe, Silverman, Steele, Droegemueller, & Silver, 1962) in the early 1960s, however, professional concern with the plight of abused and neglected children quickly grew. National attention to child maltreatment also increased as public concern about family poverty escalated in the late 1960s, the incidence of reported sexual abuse grew in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and anguish over drug-exposed babies and the effects of homelessness on children emerged during the past decade. During the same period, media reports of abuse-related fatalities in families who were well-known to social service personnel and of children who became "lost" in the foster care system focused critical scrutiny on the inadequacies of the child protection system. These reports also revealed how the growing national problem of child maltreatment had become linked to other social ills, such as urban and rural poverty, the drug culture, neighborhood dysfunction, and the changing patterns of family life and child care (Thompson & Wyatt, 1999). A symposium devoted to child maltreatment would have been almost unimaginable when the symposium began in 1951, but the chapters of this 46th Annual Nebraska Symposium on Motivation reveal how much we have learned about this extraordinarily complex and challenging problem of human motivation.