Information About Child Abuse & Prevention
Child Abuse and Neglect:
Definitions, Risk Factors, Incidence, Costs, and Prevention
Definition of Child Abuse and Neglect
- Child abuse is any act that endangers a child’s physical or emotional health and development.
- Child abuse and neglect often take place in the home. The child often knows the abuser well – a parent, relative, babysitter, or friend of the family.
- Child abuse and neglect crosses all ethnic, racial, social, and economic lines.
There are four types of child maltreatment:
- Neglect is failure to provide for a child’s basic needs including physical, educational, and emotional needs.
- Physical abuse is physical injury as a result of hitting, kicking, shaking, burning, or otherwise harming a child.
- Sexual abuse may include indecent exposure, fondling, rape, or commercial exploitation through prostitution or the production of pornographic materials.
- Emotional abuse is any pattern of behavior that impairs a child’s emotional development or sense of self-worth, including constant criticism, threats, and rejection.
Risk Factors for Child Abuse and Neglect
For the Family
- Social isolation
- Poverty and other socioeconomic disadvantage such as unemployment or lack of education
- Family disorganization, dissolution, and violence (including intimate partner violence)
- Poor parent-child relationships and negative interactions
For the Parent/Caregiver
- Stress and distress
- Mental health conditions
- Lack of understanding of children's needs, child development, and parenting skills
- History of child abuse in family of origin
- Substance abuse
- Young, single, and non-biological parents
- Thoughts and emotions supporting maltreatment behaviors
For the Community
- Community violence -- leading to high incidents of trauma, strain, and fear for families
For the Child
- Children younger than 4 years are at greatest risk for severe injury or death
- Disabilities or mental retardation in children that may increase caregiver burden
- In childhood, boys are at higher risk and experience more severe abuse; in adolescence, the risk increases for girls, especially the risk for sexual abuse
Protective Factors for Child Abuse and Neglect
For the Family
- Supportive family environment
- Nurturing parenting skills
- Stable family relationships
- Household rules and child monitoring
- Parental employment
- Adequate housing
- Access to health care, social services, and concrete services
For the Community
- Caring adults outside the family who can serve as role models or mentors
- Communities that support parents and take responsibility for preventing abuse
For further information, click here: Preventing Child Maltreatment and Promoting Well-Being
Cost of Child Abuse
- The cost of abuse to a child lasts a lifetime. The cost to our country as a whole is approximately $124 billion annually, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The estimated average lifetime cost per victim of nonfatal child maltreatment is $210,012 in 2010 dollars, including $32,648 in childhood health care costs; $10,530 in adult medical costs; $144,360 in productivity losses; $7,728 in child welfare costs; $6,747 in criminal justice costs; and $7,999 in special education costs.
- For more information, click here: Cost of Child Abuse and Neglect Rival Other Major Public Health Problems
Long-term Impact of Child Abuse
- 22% of maltreated children have learning disorders requiring special education.
- 27% of children who are abused or neglected become delinquents, compared to 17% of children in the general population.
- In a study of 17,000 adults, those abused as children were more likely to become suicidal; more likely to have heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, and liver disease; twice as likely to be smokers; twice as likely to be severely obese; twice as likely to become alcoholics; and three times a likely to develop a drug addiction.
- In 2007, Stanford University researchers found that children suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and exposure to severe trauma actually have smaller brains. Severe trauma includes parental homicide, sexual assault, sexual abuse, school shootings, and ongoing community violence. Researchers found a nearly 9% reduction in the size of the hippocampus, a horseshoe-shaped sheet of neurons that controls memory and emotions.
- A study conducted in 2009 showed an increased risk of STDs in childhood abuse or neglect survivors tracked over time.
- In addition to the known mental health impacts of child abuse, a 2009 control study found that childhood maltreatment reduces immune function, an effect that can linger long after the maltreatment has ended.
Investing in Prevention
- Prevention of child abuse and neglect requires public education and a commitment from communities to provide emotional, social, and financial support systems for families.
- Research shows that investing in child abuse prevention programs – including parent education classes, safety programs designed to make children less vulnerable targets for abuse, and home visitation – yields a 19 to 1 savings over the long-term costs to society of child abuse.
- The American Medical Association reports that preventing child maltreatment may be a key factor in preventing youth violence. Intervention may help prevent future domestic violence and dating violence.
Sources available upon request.