Child abuse and neglect are serious problems that can cause lifelong problems for victims. The goal of healthcare providers, social services, and educators is to keep abuse and neglect from happening at all. Children have a greater chance of reaching their full potential when raised in safe, secure, and supportive relationships and environments. Learn more about child abuse and neglect prevention.
Child abuse and neglect can take several forms. In general, the main types of child abuse include:
- Physical abuse. Physical abuse is when a child receives a physical injury that is not an accident from anyone who oversees their care. It does not have to be from a parent.
- Emotional abuse. Emotional abuse occurs when a parent or caregiver acts in ways that damage a child’s sense of self-worth.
- Sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is when a parent or caregiver exposes a child to sexual behavior.
- Neglect. This type of abuse is the failure of a child’s parent or caretaker to provide for basic needs like food, shelter, or health care. Neglect may be:
- Physical. Physical neglect includes the failure to provide adequate supervision, food, shelter, or safety.
- Medical. Medical neglect includes the failure to provide necessary healthcare.
- Educational. Educational neglect includes when a parent or guardian fails to provide a child with proper schooling and education.
- Emotional. Emotional neglect includes discounting or discouraging a child’s feelings.
- Providing inadequate supervision. Inadequate supervision includes leaving a child alone if they can’t take care of themselves, or leaving a child in the care of an inappropriate or inadequate caregiver.
The goal of child abuse and neglect prevention is to stop abuse or neglect from happening in the first place. Prevention services include services that strengthen families and support parents and children. These services help with a child’s development, mental health, physical health, and safety. They may include healthcare providers, state or local social services agencies, or educators and school administrators.
Child abuse and neglect may have a lifelong impact on victims. Abused and neglected children are more likely to have:
- Learning delays
- Emotional problems
- Poor self-esteem
- Health problems
- Substance misuse problems
- Adult criminal behavior
Child abuse and neglect prevention activities help keep abuse and neglect from happening in the first place. Prevention activities help lower a child’s risk of having learning, emotional, and social issues later in life. This benefits the child, any children they may have in the future, and society overall.
Signs of abuse and neglect may not be immediately noticeable. Anyone who spends time with a child should watch for certain signs and symptoms:
Signs of physical abuse
Physical abuse is when a child receives physical injury that is not an accident. For example:
- Punching, beating, kicking
- Biting, shaking, throwing
- Stabbing, choking, hitting
The result of these injuries is usually visible on the child. The child may also wear clothes to cover up the injuries, like long sleeve shirts in summer, or be scared to go home. They may also abuse animals or pets.
Signs that a parent may know about or be the cause abuse include:
- Having a hard time explaining their child’s injury
- Having a history of being abused as a child or of abusing pets or animals
- Talking to or about their child in a hurtful or negative way
Signs of neglect
Neglect is when a parent or caregiver fails to provide for the basic needs of the child. Signs of neglect may include the following:
- The parent abandoning the child
- The child not having enough food
- The child lacking medical care
- The child not getting help with special needs
- The parent failing to provide for emotional needs
Signs that a parent may know about or be the cause of neglect include:
- Carelessness or apathy concerning their child’s needs
- Misuse of alcohol or other drugs
- Illogical behavior
- Depression or carelessness regarding their own life or health
Signs of sexual abuse
Sexual abuse is when a parent or caregiver exposes a child to sexual acts, images, or behavior. The child may:
- Have a hard time walking or sitting
- Refuse to change clothes for gym
- Report scary dreams or wet the bed
- Know more about sex or sexual behavior than they should
- Run away
- Attach quickly to adults or strangers
Signs that a parent may know about or be the cause of sexual abuse include:
- Being secretive and isolating the child
- Being overprotective or limiting their child’s contact with children of the other gender
- Appearing jealous or manipulative
Signs of emotional abuse
Emotional abuse occurs when the parent or caregiver of a child prevents them from having a positive sense of self-worth. Emotional abuse is hard to prove and often occurs with another kind of abuse. Signs of emotional abuse in the child may include:
- Attempted suicide
- Extreme behavior (very passive or very active)
- Actions that seem too old or too young for their age
- Lack of attachment to the parent
Signs that a parent may know about or be the cause of emotional abuse may include:
- Harsh rejection of the child
- Blaming or insulting the child often
- Lack of concern about the child’s problems
Any kind of child abuse and neglect can cause lifelong physical and emotional problems. But with the right kind of treatment, the child can learn how to deal with their past.
If you notice a problem with your child’s health, emotions, or behaviors, seek treatment as soon as possible.
If you suspect child abuse or neglect, contact your local child protective services agency or police department to file a report.
Access to health care is critical to the well-being of families and children and helps protect against abuse and neglect. A child’s healthcare provider can support and advise parents as they raise their children. Healthcare providers inform parents about community services and parent support groups that can help prevent abuse and neglect.
Mental health services are available to help parents become healthier emotionally and better able to meet their child’s basic needs. Mental health services, especially when provided early on, can help limit the long-lasting consequences of abuse or neglect.
Your child’s healthcare provider will check for signs of abuse and/or neglect. If your child has emotional, developmental, and/or behavioral problems, ask your child’s healthcare provider for a referral to a mental health specialist for an evaluation.