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Child Abuse

DEFINITION

  • Child abuse is harm to, or neglect of, a child by another person.
  • Child abuse happens in all cultural, ethnic, and income groups.
  • While most abused children suffer severe emotional trauma, in some cases, child abuse can lead to severe physical harm or even death.

STATISTICS

  • Each day more than 4 children die as a result of child abuse in the home; 3 out of 4 of these children will be under the age of 3.
  • Neglect is the most common type of child abuse in the United States, followed by physical abuse.
  • The actual incidence of abuse and neglect is estimated to be three times greater than the number of cases reported.

RECOGNIZING SIGNS OF CHILD ABUSE

The first step in helping abused or neglected children is learning to recognize the signs of child abuse and neglect. The presence of a single sign does not prove child abuse is occurring in a family; however, when these signs appear repeatedly or in combination, you should take a closer look at the situation and consider the possibility of child abuse. If you do suspect a child is being harmed, reporting your suspicions may protect the child and get help for the family. Contact your local child protective services agency or police department.

The following signs may signal the presence of child abuse or neglect:

THE CHILD:

  • Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance.
  • Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention.
  • Has learning problems or dificulty concentrating that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes.
  • Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen.
  • Lacks adult supervision.
  • Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn.
  • Comes to school or other activities early, stays late, and does not want to go home.

THE PARENT:

  • Shows little concern for the child.
  • Denies the existence of or blames the child for the child’s problems in school or at home.
  • Asks teachers or other caretakers to use harsh physical discipline if the child misbehaves.
  • Sees the child as entirely bad, worthless, or burdensome.
  • Demands a level of physical or academic performance the child cannot achieve.
  • Looks primarily to the child for care, attention, and satisfaction of emotional needs.

SYMPTOMS

  • Unexplained bruises, welts, cuts, or burns in the shape of an object.
  • Lack of interest in eating, sleeping, or socializing with friends.
  • Excessive fear of a particular person or a family member.

CAUSES

  • Parents who have difficulty meeting the demands of parenthood.
  • Parents themselves who were victims of domestic abuse or who learned harsh methods of discipline, leading to violence.
  • Drug or alcohol problems in the home may likely contribute to child abuse.

SEXUAL ABUSE

  • Child sexual abuse can take place within the home and involve a family member or trusted family friend.
  • When sexual abuse occurs, a child develops disturbing feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.
  • Child sexual abusers often threaten the child to keep silent.

VERBAL ABUSE

  • Name calling, swearing, and insulting comments are the most common types of verbal child abuse.
  • Threats of abandonment and bodily harm are other forms of verbal child abuse.
  • Victims of this type of abuse will suffer from low self-esteem.

PHYSICAL ABUSE

  • This type of abuse includes severe beatings, burns, biting, and even strangulation.
  • In many cases, children are frequent victims of physical abuse.
  • In some cases, physical abuse can lead to death.

ABANDONMENT

  • Some parents will abandon their children for long periods of time, which is illegal in most states.
  • Abandonment also includes withholding support and communication by the custodial parent.
  • Thousands of children are abandoned by their parents each year in the United States.

STRESS

  • Stress disorder is one of the leading causes of child abuse among parents.
  • Prolonged and unresolved stress in parents can lead to physical abuse of a child.
  • Abuse occurs at the greatest moments of stress.

PREVENTION

  • Learn stress management techniques and implement them during stressful times.
  • Practice open communication in your family, and encourage everyone to express their feelings.
  • If you find yourself having thoughts about harming your child, run as fast as you can away from the situation. Seek professional counseling and help.

COPING

  • Many children cope with child abuse by withdrawing from their family and everyone in their life.
  • Adults who witness child abuse are often reluctant to report it to the authorities.
  • Victims of child abuse, as well as their perpetrators, will require professional counseling and assistance.

MEDICAL ASSURANCE

  • If you suspect a child has been the victim of abuse, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Many child abuse victims never receive adequate medical assistance.
  • Children may be reluctant to seek medical assistance, because they have been threatened by their abuser.

COUNSELING

  • Counseling abused children is a challenging task for professionals.
  • All 50 states require that child abuse be reported to the proper authorities.
  • Victims of child abuse should be treated by a trained counselor.

AGENCIES

  • If you suspect child abuse is occurring in a home, contact your local police department.
  • Every state has a department of child protective services that can provide additional information on child abuse.
  • Children should be taught to report abuse to another grownup, a teacher, or member of the clergy.