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Child Abuse: Information, Types, Prevention

Published: 2012-11-17 - Updated: 2021-06-28
Author: Thomas C. Weiss - Contact: Contact Details
Peer-Reviewed: N/A
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Synopsis: Child Abuse is defined as failing to do something that results in harm to a child or puts a child at risk of harm. Child abuse can be physical, sexual or emotional. Neglect, or not providing for a child's needs, is also a form of abuse. Involving parents in every aspect of the program planning, implementation, as well as evaluation helps to ensure that service providers are working in a true relationship with families. Parenting a child is one of the hardest and most important jobs in America and everyone has a stake in making sure that parents have access to the support and resources they need to succeed.

Main Digest

The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) as amended by the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act defines child abuse and neglect as, at a minimum, any recent act or failure to act on the part of a caretaker or parent which results in emotional harm, serious physical harm, death, sexual abuse or exploitation. It also defines child abuse as an act or acts that present an imminent risk of serious harm.


The majority of Federal and State child protection laws largely refer to cases of harm to a child cause by caregivers or parents and usually do not include harm caused by other people such as strangers or acquaintances.

Within these minimum standards set by CAPTA, every State has the responsibility to provide its own definitions of child abuse and neglect. The majority of the States recognize four major types of maltreatment to include emotional and physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. While any of the types of child abuse may be found separately, they often times happen in combinations unfortunately. In several States in America, abandonment and parental substance abuse are also included in the definition of child abuse or neglect.

Physical Child Abuse

Physical child abuse involves non-accidental physical injury to a child that ranges from minor bruising to severe fractures or even death as a result of:

Child abuse can also involve other ways of harming a child that are inflicted by a caregiver, parent, or another person who is responsible for the care of a child. Injuries to a child are considered to be abuse despite whether or not the caregiver intended to harm the child. Types of physical discipline such as spanking or paddling are not considered to be abuse as long as it is reasonable and do not cause bodily injury to the child.

Neglect and Child Abuse

Neglect is a type of child abuse involving the failure of a caregiver, parent, or guardian to provide for a child's basic needs. Some examples of neglect include:

The situations described do not always mean a child is being neglected, at times poverty, cultural values, or the standards of care in a person's community might be contributing factors that indicate a family needs information or assistance. When a family does not use information and resources that are provided and a child's safety or health are at risk, child welfare intervention might be required. A number of States in America have an exception to the definition of neglect for parents who choose not to pursue medical care for their child based on religious beliefs that may prohibit medical intervention.

Sexual Abuse of a Child

Sexual abuse of a child include activities by a caregiver, guardian, or parent such as the fondling of a child's genitals, incest, penetration, indecent exposure, sodomy, or the exploitation of a child through prostitution or the production of pornographic materials. CAPTA defines child sexual abuse as, "the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or the rape, and in cases of caretaker or inter-familial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children."

Child Emotional Abuse, Abandonment, and Substance Abuse

Emotional or psychological abuse of a child involves a pattern of behavior that impairs a child's sense of self-worth or emotional development. The abuse can include consistent threats, criticism, or rejection, as well as the withholding of support, guidance or love. Emotional abuse is something that is many times hard to prove and because of this child protective services might not have the ability to intervene without evidence of harm or mental injury to a child. Emotional abuse nearly always present when additional forms have been identified.

'Abandonment,' is a form of child abuse that is now defined in a number of States in America as a type of child neglect. A child is generally considered to be abandoned when their parent's location or identity are unknown, the child has been left alone in circumstances where the child is suffering serious harm, or the parent has failed to maintain contact with the child or provide their child with reasonable supports over a specified period of time.

Substance abuse is considered to be an, 'element,' of child abuse or neglect in several States in America. The circumstances that are considered to be abuse or neglect in some states include the following:

Preventing Child Abuse

Several States, as well as local and Tribal governments, community and faith-based organizations, pursue child abuse prevention activities. The services they offer differ widely. Some of the prevention services are aimed at everyone such as public service announcements with the goal of raising the awareness of everyone in the community.

Other efforts are aimed specifically at individuals and families who might be at a higher risk of child abuse or neglect. For example, some of these efforts might be involve parenting classes for single teenage mothers. Other services may be developed specifically for families where neglect or abuse has already happened with the goal of reducing the negative effects of the abuse and to prevent it from ever happening again. The most common child abuse prevention program activities include:

There are two elements that have been demonstrated to make child abuse programs more effective, despite the type of service offered or the intended recipients. Involving parents in every aspect of the program planning, implementation, as well as evaluation helps to ensure that service providers are working in a true relationship with families. Parents are also more likely to make lasting changes when they are empowered to find solutions that make sense to them personally.

Another key to success is the provision of child abuse services that evidence-based. What this means is that instead of relying on assumptions, research has been performed to show that a certain service improves the outcomes for both children and families. The research helps providers to feel confident with what they are doing and helps to justify a program's funding when resources become thin.

Parenting a child is one of the hardest and most important jobs in America and everyone has a stake in making sure that parents have access to the support and resources they need to succeed. The entire community a person lives in plays a role in assisting families to find the strength they need to raise healthy, safe, and productive children. Some of the things you can do include:

Get to know your neighbors and help to keep children safe in your community. Learn how to recognize and report signs of child neglect and abuse. Reporting your concerns can help to protect a child and help a family to receive the assistance they need.

Author Credentials:

Thomas C. Weiss is a researcher and editor for Disabled World. Thomas attended college and university courses earning a Masters, Bachelors and two Associate degrees, as well as pursing Disability Studies. As a Nursing Assistant Thomas has assisted people from a variety of racial, religious, gender, class, and age groups by providing care for people with all forms of disabilities from Multiple Sclerosis to Parkinson's; para and quadriplegia to Spina Bifida.

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Cite This Page (APA): Thomas C. Weiss. (2012, November 17). Child Abuse: Information, Types, Prevention. Disabled World. Retrieved September 22, 2023 from

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