Author(s): Child Welfare Information Gateway Year Published: 2008
Each State provides its own definitions of child abuse and neglect based on minimum standards set by Federal law.
Federal legislation lays the groundwork for States by identifying a minimum set of acts or behaviors that define child abuse and neglect.
The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), (42 U.S.C.A. 5106g) Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), as amended by the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003, defines child abuse and neglect as, at minimum:
Most Federal and State child protection laws primarily refer to cases of harm to a child caused by parents or other caregivers; they generally do not include harm caused by other people, such as acquaintances or strangers.
Within the minimum standards set by CAPTA, each State is responsible for providing its own definitions of child abuse and neglect.1 Most States recognize four major types of maltreatment: physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. Although any of the forms of child maltreatment may be found separately, they often occur in combination. In many States, abandonment and parental substance abuse are also defined as forms of child abuse or neglect.
The examples provided below are for general informational purposes only. Not all States' definitions will include all of the examples listed below, and individual States' definitions may cover additional situations not mentioned here.
nonaccidental physical injury (ranging from minor bruises to severe fractures or death) as a result of punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, throwing, stabbing, choking, hitting (with a hand, stick, strap, or other object), burning, or otherwise harming a child, that is inflicted by a parent, caregiver, or other person who has responsibility for the child.2 Such injury is considered abuse regardless of whether the caregiver intended to hurt the child. Physical discipline, such as spanking or paddling, is not considered abuse as long as it is reasonable and causes no bodily injury to the child.
Failure of a parent, guardian, or other caregiver to provide for a child's basic needs. Neglect may be:
These situations do not always mean a child is neglected. Sometimes cultural values, the standards of care in the community, and poverty may be contributing factors, indicating the family is in need of information or assistance. When a family fails to use information and resources, and the child's health or safety is at risk, then child welfare intervention may be required. In addition, many States provide an exception to the definition of neglect for parents who choose not to seek medical care for their children due to religious beliefs that may prohibit medical intervention.
includes activities by a parent or caregiver such as fondling a child's genitals, penetration, incest, rape, sodomy, indecent exposure, and exploitation through prostitution or the production of pornographic materials. Child marriage may be considered in many modern western cultures as a form of child sex slavery and child trafficking. Review our next section for more information on child marriage.
Today child marriages are fairly widespread in parts of the world throughout the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, Southeast and East Asia, West Asia, Latin America, and Oceania. Top three nations with greater than 20% rates of child marriages below the age of 15, are: Niger, Bangladesh and Guinea. According to UNICEF, Africa has the highest incidence rates of child marriage, with over 70% of girls marrying under the age of 18, in three nations. However, one must note that this UNICEF report is based on data that is derived from a small sample survey between 1995 and 2004, and the current rate is unknown given lack of infrastructure and in some cases, regional violence. Read more about Child Marriages here>>
(or psychological abuse) is a pattern of behavior that impairs a child's emotional development or sense of self-worth. This may include constant criticism, threats, or rejection, as well as withholding love, support, or guidance.
Defined in many States as a form of neglect. In general, a child is considered to be abandoned when the parent's identity or whereabouts are unknown, the child has been left alone in circumstances where the child suffers serious harm, or the parent has failed to maintain contact with the child or provide reasonable support for a specified period of time.
an element of the definition of child abuse or neglect in many States.5 Circumstances that are considered abuse or neglect in some States include:
According to data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), 50 States reported a total of 1,537 fatalities. Based on these data, a nationally estimated 1,560 children died from abuse and neglect in 2010. This translates to a rate of 2.07 children per 100,000 children in the general population and an average of four children dying every day from abuse or neglect. NCANDS defines "child fatality" as the death of a child caused by an injury resulting from abuse or neglect or where abuse or neglect was a contributing factor. Read more at Child related deaths from abuse & Neglect
Research indicates that very young children (ages 4 and younger) are the most frequent victims of child fatalities. NCANDS data for 2010 demonstrated that children younger than 1 year accounted for 47.7 percent of fatalities; children younger than 4 years accounted for nearly four-fifths (79.4 percent) of fatalities. These children are the most vulnerable for many reasons, including their dependency, small size, and inability to defend themselves.
Read more at Age Groups Most Vulnerable
Fatal child abuse may involve repeated abuse over a period of time (e.g., battered child syndrome), or it may involve a single, impulsive incident (e.g., drowning, suffocating, or shaking a baby). In cases of fatal neglect, the child's death results not from anything the caregiver does, but from a caregiver's failure to act. Read more at how do these deaths occur
No matter how the fatal abuse occurs, one fact of great concern is that the perpetrators are, by definition, individuals responsible for the care and supervision of their victims. In 2010, parents, acting alone or with another person, were responsible for 79.2 percent of child abuse or neglect fatalities. Almost 30 percent (29.2 percent) were perpetrated by the mother acting alone.
Read more at who is responsible for the child's death
Watch here as Daleen Berry talks about Recognizing the Red Flags- Signs of child abuse, how to get help (video)
Most people imagine a molester to be some ugly, unshaven, wearing a dark trench coat who coaxes small children with candy and a puppy dog. This picture is rare, what people don't realize is the molester may be known to them, think of Uncle Joe or Tom, Aunt Amy, perhaps the nice old neighbor guy who couldn't hurt a flea, a trusted co-worker that you would entrust your life to. How about mom or dad? These are the likely molesters in a child's life, not the Hollywood portrayal of a scruffy dirty old man.
What's important to realize is that child molesters come from all walks of life, any religion, employed or not, from any race- there is no predeliction. They are found at every socioeconomic level- from poorist to the richest of us. They can be male (more common), or female (less common), or even another child.
Adults who molest children can be divided into two groups. A small percentage may have a lifelong, exclusive attraction to children, with little or no emotional attachment to other similar aged adults. The second group of molesters, the majority of them are not lifelong exclusively attracted to children, they are able to manage adult relationships on some variable level, and have not molested multiple child-victims. Additionally, adults who molest children of same sex/gender are not necessarily homosexual; they may well be involved in a heterosexual adult relationship.
In a smaller proportion of child molestations, the child molester is NOT known by the child or his immediate adults. In this case, the molester gained access to the child through manipulating his/her's access to children, and is trolling for a child to whom they can attach themselves. Some of the methods by which this subset group gains access include force, fear, bribes (candy and puppy dogs), or trickery- he/she may lie to the child stating they are a trusted family member's friend there to assist them. What everr the means, the child molester's goal is to drop the child's mistrust of strangers, reducing the chance of exposure, alarm raised by the child.
These are but a few of the characteristics utilized by professional treatment providers, researchers, and Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA) to identify a potential child predator.
To read more about the Characteristics of Child Molesters read more>>
Missing and exploited children statistics are available in the National Incidence Studies on Missing... Read More>> Missing and Exploited Children
In response to the threat of computer-facilitated sexual exploitation crimes committed against child... Read More>> Justice Department Takes Action Last Updated: October 4, 2010
University of New Hampshire researches the victimization of children and adolescents both within and outside the family. The Center's research addresse criminal acts as defined by law, child abuse and neglect, child-to-child violence, and indirect victimization.
Sexting has prompted considerable worry and controversy...Read More>> Dangers of Sexting
Documents children's lifetime exposure to multiple victimization types and examines the association between victimizations and the extent of trauma.
Child Victemization (PDF - 118 KB)
Turner, Finkelhor, & Ormrod American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 38(3), 2010
An estimated 905,000 children were victims of child abuse or neglect in 2006 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008). While physical injuries may or may not be immediately visible, abuse and neglect can have consequences for children, families, and society that last lifetimes, if not generations.
The impact of child abuse and neglect is often discussed in terms of physical, psychological, behavioral, and societal consequences. In reality, however, it is impossible to separate them completely. Physical consequences, such as damage to a child's growing brain, can have psychological implications such as cognitive delays or emotional difficulties. Psychological problems often manifest as high-risk behaviors. Depression and anxiety, for example, may make a person more likely to smoke, abuse alcohol or illicit drugs, or overeat. High-risk behaviors, in turn, can lead to long-term physical health problems such as sexually transmitted diseases, cancer, and obesity. Long Term Consequences Child Abuse (PDF)
LONG SCAN is a consortium of longitudinal research studies on the causes and impact of child abuse and neglect, initiated in 1990 with grants from the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. The size and diversity of the sample (1,354 children from five distinct geographical areas) enables LONGSCAN to examine the relative impact of various forms of maltreatment, alone and in combination. LONGSCAN studies also evaluate the effectiveness of child protection and child welfare services. read more here>>
Not all abused and neglected children will experience long-term consequences. Outcomes of individual cases vary widely and are affected by a combination of factors, including:
Researchers also have begun to explore why, given similar conditions, some children experience long-term consequences of abuse and neglect while others emerge relatively unscathed. The ability to cope, and even thrive, following a negative experience is sometimes referred to as "resilience." A number of protective and promotive factors may contribute to an abused or neglected child's resilience. These include individual characteristics, such as optimism, self-esteem, intelligence, creativity, humor, and independence, as well as the acceptance of peers and positive individual influences such as teachers, mentors, and role models. Other factors can include the child's social environment and the family's access to social supports. Community well-being, including neighborhood stability and access to safe schools and adequate health care, are other protective and promotive factors (Fraser & Terzian, 2005).
The immediate physical effects of abuse or neglect can be relatively minor (bruises or cuts) or severe (broken bones, hemorrhage, or even death). In some cases the physical effects are temporary; however, the pain and suffering they cause a child should not be discounted. Meanwhile, the long-term impact of child abuse and neglect on physical health is just beginning to be explored. According to the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), more than one-quarter of children who had been in foster care for longer than 12 months had some lasting or recurring health problem (Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation [ACF/OPRE], 2004a). Below are some outcomes researchers have identified:
Child abuse and neglect have been shown, in some cases, to cause important regions of the brain to fail to form or grow properly, resulting in impaired development (De Bellis & Thomas, 2003). These alterations in brain maturation have long-term consequences for cognitive, language, and academic abilities (Watts-English, Fortson, Gibler, Hooper, & De Bellis, 2006). NSCAW found more than three-quarters of foster children between 1 and 2 years of age to be at medium to high risk for problems with brain development, as opposed to less than half of children in a control sample (ACF/OPRE, 2004a).
Several studies have shown a relationship between various forms of household dysfunction (including childhood abuse) and poor health (Flaherty et al., 2006; Felitti, 2002). Adults who experienced abuse or neglect during childhood are more likely to suffer from physical ailments such as allergies, arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, high blood pressure, and ulcers (Springer, Sheridan, Kuo, & Carnes, 2007).
Shaken baby syndrome is a severe form of child abuse caused by violently shaking an infant or child.
Shaken impact syndrome; Whiplash - shaken infant
Shaken baby syndrome can occur from as little as 5 seconds of shaking.
Shaken baby injuries usually occur in children younger than 2 years old but may be seen in children up to the age of 5.
When an infant or toddler is shaken, the brain bounces back and forth against the skull. This can cause bruising of the brain (cerebral contusion), swelling, pressure, and bleeding in the brain. The large veins along the outside of the brain may tear, leading to further bleeding, swelling, and increased pressure. This can easily cause permanent brain damage or death.
Shaking an infant or small child may cause other injuries, such as damage to the neck, spine, and eyes.
In most cases, an angry parent or caregiver shakes the baby to punish or quiet the child. Such shaking usually takes place when the infant is crying inconsolably and the frustrated caregiver loses control. Many times the caregiver did not intend to harm the baby. Still, it is a form of child abuse.
Injuries are most likely to happen when the baby is shaken and then the baby's head hits something. Even hitting a soft object, such as a mattress or pillow, may be enough to injure newborns and small infants. Children's brains are softer, their neck muscles and ligaments are weak, and their heads are large and heavy in proportion to their bodies. The result is a type of whiplash, similar to what occurs in some auto accidents.
Shaken baby syndrome does not result from gentle bouncing, playful swinging or tossing the child in the air, or jogging with the child. It also is very unlikely to occur from accidents such as falling off chairs or down stairs, or accidentally being dropped from a caregiver's arms. Short falls may cause other types of head injuries, although these are often minor.
The symptoms can vary from mild to severe. They may include:
There may not be any physical signs of injury, such as bruising, bleeding, or swelling. In some cases, the condition can be difficult to diagnose and may not be identified during an office visit. However, rib fractures are common and can be seen on x-ray.
An eye doctor may find bleeding behind the baby's eye or retinal detachment. There are, however, other causes of bleeding behind the eye and they should be ruled out before diagnosing shaken baby syndrome. Other factors must be considered.
Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number. Immediate emergency treatment is necessary.
If the child stops breathing before emergency help arrives, CALL 9-1-1 then begin CPR.
Steps to take if the child is vomiting:
Call your health care provider if a child has any of the above signs or symptoms, regardless of how severe they are. Also call if you think a child has shaken baby syndrome.
Depression and withdrawal symptoms were common among children as young as 3 who experienced emotional, physical, or environmental neglect. (Dubowitz, Papas, Black, & Starr, 2002).
In one long-term study, as many as 80 percent of young adults who had been abused met the diagnostic criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder at age 21. These young adults exhibited many problems, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicide attempts (Silverman, Reinherz, & Giaconia, 1996). Other psychological and emotional conditions associated with abuse and neglect include panic disorder, dissociative disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, depression, anger, posttraumatic stress disorder, and reactive attachment disorder (Teicher, 2000; De Bellis & Thomas, 2003; Springer, Sheridan, Kuo, & Carnes, 2007).
NSCAW found that children placed in out-of-home care due to abuse or neglect tended to score lower than the general population on measures of cognitive capacity, language development, and academic achievement (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003). A 1999 LONGSCAN study also found a relationship between substantiated child maltreatment and poor academic performance and classroom functioning for school-age children (Zolotor, Kotch, Dufort, Winsor, & Catellier, 1999).
Children who experience rejection or neglect are more likely to develop antisocial traits as they grow up. Parental neglect is also associated with borderline personality disorders and violent behavior (Schore, 2003).
Not all victims of child abuse and neglect will experience behavioral consequences. However, behavioral problems appear to be more likely among this group, even at a young age. An NSCAW survey of children ages 3 to 5 in foster care found these children displayed clinical or borderline levels of behavioral problems at a rate of more than twice that of the general population (ACF, 2004b). Later in life, child abuse and neglect appear to make the following more likely:
Studies have found abused and neglected children to be at least 25 percent more likely to experience problems such as delinquency, teen pregnancy, low academic achievement, drug use, and mental health problems (Kelley, Thornberry, & Smith, 1997). Other studies suggest that abused or neglected children are more likely to engage in sexual risk-taking as they reach adolescence, thereby increasing their chances of contracting a sexually transmitted disease (Johnson, Rew, & Sternglanz, 2006).
According to a National Institute of Justice study, abused and neglected children were 11 times more likely to be arrested for criminal behavior as a juvenile, 2.7 times more likely to be arrested for violent and criminal behavior as an adult, and 3.1 times more likely to be arrested for one of many forms of violent crime (juvenile or adult) (English, Widom, & Brandford, 2004).
Research consistently reflects an increased likelihood that abused and neglected children will smoke cigarettes, abuse alcohol, or take illicit drugs during their lifetime (Dube et al., 2001). According to a report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, as many as two-thirds of people in drug treatment programs reported being abused as children (Swan, 1998).
Abusive parents often have experienced abuse during their own childhoods. It is estimated approximately one-third of abused and neglected children will eventually victimize their own children (Prevent Child Abuse New York, 2003).
While child abuse and neglect almost always occur within the family, the impact does not end there. Society as a whole pays a price for child abuse and neglect, in terms of both direct and indirect costs.
Direct costs include those associated with maintaining a child welfare system to investigate and respond to allegations of child abuse and neglect, as well as expenditures by the judicial, law enforcement, health, and mental health systems. A 2001 report by Prevent Child Abuse America estimates these costs at $24 billion per year.
Indirect costs represent the long-term economic consequences of child abuse and neglect. These include costs associated with juvenile and adult criminal activity, mental illness, substance abuse, and domestic violence. They can also include loss of productivity due to unemployment and underemployment, the cost of special education services, and increased use of the health care system. Prevent Child Abuse America estimated these costs at more than $69 billion per year (2001).
Much research has been done about the possible consequences of child abuse and neglect. The effects vary depending on the circumstances of the abuse or neglect, personal characteristics of the child, and the child's environment. Consequences may be mild or severe; disappear after a short period or last a lifetime; and affect the child physically, psychologically, behaviorally, or in some combination of all three ways. Ultimately, due to related costs to public entities such as the health care, human services, and educational systems, abuse and neglect impact not just the child and family, but society as a whole.
Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation. (2004a). Who are the children in foster care? NSCAW Research Brief No. 1. Retrieved August 9, 2007, from the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect website:
Chalk, R., Gibbons, A., & Scarupa, H. J. (2002). The multiple dimensions of child abuse and neglect: New insights into an old problem. Washington, DC: Child Trends. Retrieved April 27, 2006, from:
Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation. (2004b). Children ages 3 to 5 in the child welfare system. NSCAW Research Brief No. 5. Washington, DC: Author.
De Bellis, M., & Thomas, L. (2003). Biologic findings of post-traumatic stress disorder and child maltreatment. Current Psychiatry Repots, 5, 108-117.
Dube, S. R., Anda, R. F., Felitti, V. J., Chapman, D., Williamson, D. F., & Giles, W. H. (2001). Childhood abuse, household dysfunction and the risk of attempted suicide throughout the life span: Findings from the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. Journal of the American Medical Association, 286, 3089-3096
Dubowitz, H., Papas, M. A., Black, M. M., & Starr, R. H., Jr. (2002). Child neglect: Outcomes in high-risk urban preschoolers. Pediatrics, 109, 1100-1107
English, D. J., Upadhyaya, M. P., Litrownik, A. J., Marshall, J. M., Runyan, D. K., Graham, J. C., & Dubowitz, H. (2005). Maltreatment's wake: The relationship of maltreatment dimensions to child outcomes. Child Abuse and Neglect, 29, 597-619.
See full citations, credits at: Long Term Consequences Child Abuse
Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2012). Child abuse and neglect fatalities 2010: Statistics and interventions. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children's Bureau. Child Welfare Information Gateway
Child Abuse Maltreatment (PDF - 3.97 MB) Year Published: 2010 - 227 pages
Wang, C.T. and Daro, D. (1998). Current Trends in Child Abuse Reporting and Fatalities: The Results of the 1997 Annual Fifty State Survey. Chicago, IL: Prevent Child Abuse America.
American Association for Protecting Children (AAPC). (1988) Highlights of Official Child Neglect and Abuse Reporting, 1986. Denver, CO.: American Humane Association.
Finkelhor, D. and Williams, L. (1988) Nursery Crimes: Sexual Abuse in Day Care. California: Sage Publications.
Sedlak, A. (1996). Early Findings from the Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect: 1988. Rockville, MD: Westat, Inc. (301) 251-4211.
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