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“Etched in Sand” by Calcaterra

The book under discussion is written by Calcaterra R. and is called “Etched in sand: A true story of five siblings who survived an unspeakable childhood on Long Island.” It can be viewed as an author’s memoir of her abusive childhood full of difficult situations and challenges. Regina, the main character, and her four other siblings live in challenging conditions. Their mother belongs to the low class and does not care about her children appropriately. Moreover, all children have different fathers, which makes the situation even more difficult. In such a way, the book represents the idea that child maltreatment remains a critical problem, and children suffering from different types of abuse might face multiple issues deteriorating the quality of their lives.

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The discussed story provides several examples of neglect that are linked to child abuse. For instance, physical neglect, or the inability to meet the minimal physical needs of a person is relevant for the book (McCoy & Keen, 2009). Rebecca and her siblings are beaten and often have to look for food and other necessary items to survive. The text also touches upon emotional neglect, or the failure to meet children’s emotional needs (Calcaterra, 2013). The children of the story are afraid of her mother and Cookie disregards their demands, which evidences the emotional neglect. Finally, abandonment, or the refusal of a child, can also be viewed as one of the problems in the book as being a toddler, Regina spent many days at Cookies’ boyfriends or distant family members (Calcaterra, 2013). In such a way, the story also offers multiple cases of neglect that prove the complexity of Regina and her siblings’ lives.

Psychological maltreatment is one of the main themes of the book. The term includes both neglect and abuse and presupposes failing to meet emotional needs or causing harm to the mental health of a child (McCoy & Keen, 2009). Denying emotional responsiveness can be considered one of the subtypes of maltreatment relevant to the book. It can be defined as the refusal to be involved in children’s lives, being undetached, and failure to express affection (McCoy & Keen, 2009). For Rebecca and her siblings, Cookie was always a source of troubles and problems, and he was not interested in their lives or the hardships her children had to face to survive. For this reason, they suffered from psychological maltreatment and its negative consequences.

Another problem outlined in the book is physical abuse. Today, it is defined as an act of a caregiver that results in a physical injury or some harm done to a child (McCoy & Keen, 2009). In such a way, nonaccidental traumas caused by parents should be related to this category. As for Regina’s story, one of the cases is Cookies’ beating Regina to the edge of consciousness. Being angry and drunk, the mother starts to attack the youngest daughter, Rose, but Regina wants to protect her and becomes injured (Calcaterra, 2013). The given example demonstrates the complexity of children’s lives and Cookie’s inability to be their mother.

Unfortunately, children from Regina’s story also experienced sexual abuse. It can be defined as the involvement of a child in any kind of sexual activity in which consent is not or cannot be given (McCoy & Keen, 2009). All children from the family in the book acquired their knowledge about sex too early. Regina states that she learned about oral sex at the age of eight, “thanks to Cookie’s demonstration on one of her boyfriends” (Calcaterra, 2013). Another example of inappropriate sexual behavior includes grabbing other men between legs in front of children and Cookies’ other displays (Calcaterra, 2013). These actions can be classified as sexual abuse as children had to witness scenes of sex inappropriate for their age.

The situation described in the book can also be characterized by the existence of multiple risk factors. These can be determined as aspects that increase the risk for child maltreatment and might precondition the emergence of poor outcomes (McCoy & Keen, 2009). It should be stated that both community and the family might play a significant role in raising children and satisfying their needs (Coulton et al., 2018). For instance, in the book, Regina outlines her mother’s mental illness that was a serious concern for all children (Calcaterra, 2013). Moreover, the extreme poverty and complex living conditions deprived siblings of a chance for happy living. In such a way, the existence of these factors created an environment beneficial for the development of child abuse and maltreatment.

Altogether, maltreatment remains the central topic of the selected book. Regina and her siblings suffer from psychological, physical, and sexual abuse preconditioned by multiple risk factors such as the mental illness of their mother and her unwillingness to care for her children. In such a way, the text offers a typical case of maltreatment that should be analyzed to acquire an improved understanding of how inappropriate behaviors related to children might affect their lives.

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The importance of child maltreatment is evidenced by its severe impact on children. For this reason, the given section is devoted to the analysis of the possible effects of abuse and neglect on adolescents and their future behaviors. The inappropriate parental behavior might cause irreversible changes in the child’s psyche. For this reason, it is vital to notice the first symptoms of maltreatment and address them in the initial stages. These signs might include attempts to run from the house, lack of supervision, depression, anxiety. For instance, in the book, Regina outlines her desire to leave home and their abusive mother as she is dangerous for all siblings and deteriorates their lives. In such a way, maltreatment might have an extremely negative impact on children, and it is vital to consider the first symptoms to avoid it.

The existing body of evidence offers different ways of how children can react to maltreatment. For instance, Cicchetti and Handley (2019) state that abusive parental behaviors might trigger the development of substance use and different types of addiction as a way to avoid stress and escape from reality. Moreover, the literature also outlines the high risk of the emergence of aggressive behaviors and violent behaviors aimed at other children (Coulton et al., 2018). It happens mainly under the impact of neglect and poor relations with parents. However, the book provides an example of different reactions. For instance, living with “a mentally ill, alcoholic, promiscuous mother,” Regina hates drugs and addictive substances as she sees their impact on people and how they destroy their personalities (Calcaterra, 2013). Additionally, as against the idea that children who experience abuse might become aggressive, the main character of the book avoids conflicts and fights (Calcaterra, 2013). On the contrary, she tries to care for her siblings as it is the only way to protect each other and survive in that environment.

The negative effects of maltreatment are often linked to the idea of the cycle of violence. It refers to repeated acts of aggression that are associated with the concepts of retribution and revenge (McCoy & Keen, 2009). In other words, adults who were maltreated in their childhood have a high risk of abusing their children. In such a way, maltreatment can be viewed as a problem affecting several generations and deteriorating the health of the nation. From this perspective, the idea of resilience as the ability to pass through negative life events unscathed becomes critically important (McCoy & Keen, 2009). It means that children with the experience of neglect will be able to recover and acquire appropriate behavioral patterns essential for their healthy life. The book also offers some examples related to these concepts. Analyzing the text, it is possible to conclude that Regina will hardly maltreat her children or experience long-term problems in her adulthood. Throughout the whole story, she struggles with her mother to protect her sisters and brothers from her abusive behaviors and tries to escape this world (Calcaterra, 2013). It proves her resilience and the ability to avoid entering the cycle of violence.

One of the sources of Regina’s resiliency is her character and responsibility as she cares for her siblings. In such a way, the existence of a certain goal and supporting people can be viewed as the factor promoting the ability to pass through hard times and avoid long-term consequences. Additionally, research shows that children with better cognitive skills and the desire to learn might also benefit from improved outcomes even regarding neglect and abusive behaviors (Van der Put et al., 2018). At the same time, the absence of interests, hobbies, overall passivity, and the lack of support can be viewed as the aspect that might precondition the long-term issues for children and their future lives. For this reason, the promotion of resiliency acquires the top priority as one of the ways to mitigate the negative impacts of the environment and parental abuse. One should also consider the fact that the improved quality of life in adulthood also depends on a child’s ability to recover from stress, which increases the importance of factors promoting appropriate resilient behaviors.

In such a way, the negative impact of maltreatment on a child becomes evident. It might precondition the emergence of changes in the psyche of a person and trigger the evolution of undesired or aggressive behaviors that will contribute to the appearance of the cycle of violence. The examples from the book show that Regina and her siblings have extremely complex lives and problems with their self-esteem and anxiety as a result of their mother’s neglect. However, it is also possible to conclude that Regina manages to avoid developing maltreatment patterns by herself as she has high resilience levels. She has to protect other children in the family, and it makes her stronger and guarantees her ability to avoid multiple negative effects in adulthood.

The importance of the discussed issue means that there is a need for effective intervention to avoid critical outcomes of neglect. For this reason, speaking about child abuse, effective preventive measures such as cognitive behavioral therapy, home visitation, or substance abuse treatment should be discussed as the possible ways to improve the situation and attain better results (Van der Put et al., 2018).

From the book, one can see those multiple opportunities to help the family were lost. Social workers disregarded the needs of the family and did not trust Regina and her siblings’ words. Moreover, even when she became independent, she was not able to provide appropriate interventions because of the limits of existing legislation and laws.

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The case also shows the importance of mandated reports as people who can report suspected cases of child maltreatment to the existing authorities (McCoy & Keen, 2009). Their effective work is a key to reducing such cases; however, in the book, a social worker failed to do it because of the absence of clear guidelines and lack of involvement.

Nevertheless, for people who become involved in similar cases, it is critical to watch children’s behavior, their communication with parents, and their overall states to accept the decision to act. These factors will help to indicate the cases of maltreatment or abuse and provide the opportunity for effective interventions at the early stages.

That is why effective intervention becomes central for the attainment of desired outcomes. Unfortunately, the book offers a case when no one responded to the problems in the family and failed to mention the obvious signs of abuse, which resulted in poor outcomes.

Altogether, the book by Calcaterra R. “Etched in sand: A true story of five siblings who survived an unspeakable childhood on Long Island” provides one of the typical cases of maltreatment. Regina and her siblings belong to a low social class and suffer from an addicted and mentally ill mother. They were affected by these behaviors and acquired problems with their self-esteem; however, due to the high resilience levels, Regina does not develop aggressive behaviors. The book also shows that opportunities for interventions were not used as social workers failed to report the case. In such a way, the problem of child abuse remains topical for the modern world. Unfortunately, as against the book, there are multiple cases when children are not able to recover and enter the cycle of violence, which means that there is a critical need for effective interventions.


Calcaterra, R. (2013). Etched in sand: A true story of five siblings who survived an unspeakable childhood on Long Island. New York, NY: William Morrow Paperbacks.

Cicchetti, D., & Handley, E. (2019). Child maltreatment and the development of substance use and disorder. Neurobiology of Stress, 10, 100144.

Coulton, C., Richter, F., Korbin, J., Crampton, D., & Spilsbury, J. (2018). Understanding trends in neighborhood child maltreatment rates: A three-wave panel study 1990–2010. Child Abuse and Neglect, 84, 170-181.

McCoy, M. L., & Keen, S. M. (2009). Child abuse and neglect (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

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Van der Put, C., Assink, M., Gubbels, J., & van Solinge, B. (2018). Identifying effective components of child maltreatment interventions: A meta-analysis. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 21(2), 171-202.

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