Abusive Stepmother

February 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Family

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This article comes from a column called Stepfamily Advice in Philly Women, written by Lisa Cohn.

Dear Lisa:

My brother-in-law lost his wife to illness 7 years ago when his own children were 6 and 2 1/2. Last year he met a woman who was divorced with children in the same age range as his. She seemed very nice and pleasant but in the year following their marriage, the real stepmother has presented herself.

Last summer she claimed that my brother-law’s daughter, the oldest at 12, was a thief, liar and total behavior issue. The child was grounded for all of the summer except for about two weeks. My niece was part of Girl Scouts–she was doing that before the marriage and so were the new stepdaughters. The Girl Scout leaders have prohibited the stepmom from going on outings because of her abusive approach to discipline not only to her own girls but the other girls as well.

When my niece talked to the guidance counselor at school and asked to have Children’s Services called because of her own visible bruises last fall, Children Services investigated and then dismissed the case based on unsubstantiated evidence.

Now the abuse is verbal and control by punishment. During the late winter and early spring, the focus on the whipping boy changed to my brother-in-law’s son. Meanwhile the children have not been allowed to visit us and certain members of the family who verbally contested the treatment are eliminated from the circle all together.

In the 7 years before he met this woman, my brother-in-law was completely involved with his children. Now he is the talk of the community about how his own children are being treated in this new relationship. She is the dominating, manipulative one and he is the enabler by allowing her full reign in the guise of needing to support his wife as they become one family.

(We are trying)to figure out the best way to help and support the children. I will be very interested in any help that you might have to offer.

Dear M.D.:
This is an upsetting story, and I’m so glad you’re trying to protect your niece and nephew.

David J. Draganosky, a partner with the family law practice Fox Rothschild LLP., says that if you suspect child abuse, you must keep the safety of the children in mind. “Therefore, it is important to act quickly so that further abuse can be prevented.” You should contact Children’s Services again. In Pennsylvania, for example, you’d file a complaint to the Department of Public Welfare under the Child Protective Services Law, he explains. The Department would then contact your county’s youth social service agency. However, if the county agency suspects abuse, it’s likely that the children would be taken into protective custody and placed in foster care.
If you call, you can identify yourself or remain anonymous.

Vicki Panaccione, a Ph.D. child psychologist and and Founder of the Better Parenting Institute, says that you could petition the courts or Children’s Services to appoint a “guardian ad litem.” She says that guardians serve as advocates for the children. “They can get in and investigate in ways that other social service workers cannot.” If you plan to reveal information communicated by the children, be sure to let the kids know you plan to disclose it. Otherwise, they may feel betrayed, she says.

As published in Philadelphia Daily News.

© MMVI Vicki Panaccione, Ph.D.


12 Responses to “Abusive Stepmother”
  1. Michelle says:

    What if the child is too afraid to talk (she is 10) but I have heard from others about the abuse… the child will deny it though!

  2. Dr. Vicki Panaccione says:

    The law is clear that if you have any suspicions or information of possible abuse, then it’s your duty to report such. It’s not your responsibility to try to substantiate the abuse, only to report strong suspicions. You can make the call anonymously, and the claim still needs to be investigated. The Child Abuse investigators are trained to determine abuse, and to talk to kids even if they are afraid to talk, or are apt to deny the claim. Unfortunaely, when the abuse is not clear-cut, the report may be considered unfounded and the case dismissed. However, the family still has been put on notice and hopefully will think twice about being abusive. If claims continue to be reported, it is best to contact the school guidance counselor and/or call the abuse hotline again. If enough calls come in, they will most likely be less inclined to close the case, and instead may decide to monitor the family for awhile and/or mandate counseling. Thank you for your important inquiry.

  3. tammy says:

    After my children’s biological father and I got a divorce we were amicable but once the step mother got in the picture things took a drastic turn for the worse!! Her introduction via a phone call was, “There’s a New sheriff in town and there WILL be changes!” I soon began to notice bruises on my children, and they were constantly sick with rashes, headaches, and stomach pains. I kept four years of doctors, school nurses, teachers and police officer reports, investigator reports, gal (Guardian Ad Litem) reports. I finally got a restraining order against the step mother but then I relocated to help take care of my mother who’s dying; and two sheriff’s officers came and took my children against their will for relocating and now my children are living with the step mother and abusive father whom I’ve also had a protective order against for abuse and threatening my life. I have not seen my children since June 29th of last year and the step mother has blocked me and all my family from my daughter’s phone. The evidence is overwhelming and horrifying but since she isn’t a party to the agreement there isn’t ANYHTING I can do to her! and she is bipolar and is poisoning my children against me not to mention I am scared at the mere thought of what she is doing to them behind closed doors! Her and my ex want to pretend I don’t exist. I have FB messages and documentation to prove everything I’m saying yet nothing is done.

  4. Dr. Vicki Panaccione says:

    I am so sorry to hear of your situation. It sounds like you need good legal counsel. If you are concerned that your kids are being abused, you can always place a call to Child Protective Services so they can investigate.

  5. christina says:

    I am reading these comments and crying. I have been in a ten year custody battle. I am constantly being harassed by my ex- wife. This is a long and convoluted story. It includes child abuse (case closed). My daughter is 10, and her stepmother’s son has contacted me to tell me that his mom emotionally abuses my daughter, and her sister. My daughter cries every week she has to go over there. The son, my daughter’s stepbrother, has left the home, and went to his dad’s home. He contacted me to tell me about the horrible things his mom’s says to my little girl.

    My daughter tells me she is constantly grounded, she cries every week not to go there. She tells me that when she is in trouble they make her write standards, or send her to her bed. They also have cameras in the house. This school year, the father also refused for her to see a school therapist. What do I do?

  6. jocelyn says:

    My kids are dealing with an abusive stepmother. It’s more verbal/emotional than anything else, telling my kids they are nowhere near perfect like her kids, calling them stupid b’s, and telling my ex on the phone while my kids are right there that she is “going to shove her foot 10 feet up their —“. My kids are scared to talk because she has told them she hears everything… the first question out of my kids’ mouths when they met with a child psych I hired was, ” Where is the microphone?” My son wouldn’t say a word to him; the GAL (guardian ad litem) that was appointed excused himself to accept a DA position and the court won’t grant my motion for another one to be appointed. CPS has been investigating several complaints and even assigned the kids a social worker. I just took my son to urgent care and had to collect poop samples, because the doctor that saw him thinks he was overdosed on laxatives, yet I still have to send my kids to that house every other week. The school has even made reports of suspected abuse. I have 3 lawyers on this case yet I am still getting nowhere and it’s been 8 months of fighting so far. What else can I do to protect my children?

  7. Dr. Vicki Panaccione says:

    I am hearing more and more about situations like this—where the child is being mistreated in the home of one parent, and the other parent feels helpless to do anything about it. This is definitely a legal case worth fighting. Unfortunately, once custody has been established, it can be very difficult to change it without proving that the custodial parent is no longer fit to parent. This is very hard to prove—and the legal definitions are generally very different than what you would hope they would be regarding parental ‘fitness.’ I suggest you consider seeking another legal opinion if you feel your attorney is ineffective. Also, spend as much time as you can with your daughter, make contact as much as possible in between visits and let her know how much you love her and are trying to make things better. I wish there was more that I could offer.

  8. Dr. Vicki Panaccione says:

    This is a very unfortunate situation, and unfortunately not all that uncommon. I would suggest that you seek another legal opinion if you feel that your attorneys have been ineffective. Also, continue to document everything. Finally, provide all the love you can give to your kids; reassure them that you are doing all you can to make it better; allow them to express their feelings to you and be empathetic; be careful not to bash your ex in front of the kids; talk to the GAL office about getting a replacement (the GAL has already been court-ordered;) and depending upon the ages of your kids, check to see if they might be old enough to speak to the judge in chambers. I wish I had more to offer.

  9. Renee says:

    And we wonder why kids grow up and blow (kill) their parents and other people. Something must be done! Laws have to change. My daughter is emotionally abusing my step grandson. It is heartbreaking! I am not biologically related to child so nothing I can do. He is always grounded. She keeps his gifts and money he receives for birthdays and holidays, but takes her other 3 biological children shopping soon after they receive same. I am soooooo frustrated! Shame on our society for allowing these children to have to live with this abuse for years!

  10. Dr. Vicki Panaccione says:

    Thank you for your comments! It is a shame that “step” family members do not have legal recourse. The most important thing that you can do is create a warm, loving relationship between yourself and this child. That would give him some sense of validation and acceptance. Good for you for not making a distinction between steps and biological grandchildren. They are all precious children, after all.

  11. marilyn says:

    My son’s step-mother refuses to acknowledge his presence, does not allow him to go into the fridge, use the phone, humiliates him and constantly makes crude nasty jokes about me in front of him. This is difficult to prove. Cops have done nothing; she told my son she has cameras on him in every room in the house. No one believes me. My son is afraid to talk about it. And most strange of all my son’s step-mother is a school child psychologist with a doctorate in child psychology. Her abuse of my son since he was 4 (he is now 13) is severe and given her profession, she can be a professional child abuser.

  12. Dr. Vicki Panaccione says:

    Nine years is an awfully long time for your son to be mistreated. You may want to find out the laws of your state pertaining to the age at which a judge will meet with a child in chambers to hear what s/he has to say! I understand your son is scared to talk, but until he does, there probably isn’t anything you are going to be able to do about this situation. What you CAN do is counteract the treatment he gets at his father’s house with lots of love and understanding at yours.