Understanding Child Maltreatment
Child maltreatment includes all types of abuse and neglect that occur among children under the age of 18. There are four common types of abuse.
- Physical abuse occurs when a child’s body is injured as a result of hitting, kicking, shaking, burning or other show of force.
- Sexual abuse involves engaging a child in sexual acts. It includes fondling, rape, and exposing a child to other sexual activities.
- Emotional abuse refers to behaviors that harm a child’s self-worth or emotional well-being. Examples include name calling, shaming, rejection, withholding love, and threatening.
- Neglect is the failure to meet a child’s basic needs. These needs include housing, food, clothing, education, and access to medical care.
Why is child maltreatment a public health problem?
The few cases of abuse or neglect we see in the news are only a small part of the problem. Many cases are not reported to police or social services. What we do know is that:
- 1,760 children died in the United States in 2007 from abuse and neglect. 1
- 794,000 children were found to be victims of maltreatment by protective services in 2007 (1).
How does child maltreatment affect health?
Child maltreatment has a negative effect on health. Abused children often suffer physical injuries including cuts, bruises, burns, and broken bones. In addition, maltreatment causes stress that can disrupt early brain development. (2) Extreme stress can harm the development of the nervous and immune systems. (2) As a result, children who are abused or neglected are at higher risk for health problems as adults. These problems include alcoholism, depression, drug abuse, eating disorders, obesity, sexual promiscuity, smoking, suicide, and certain chronic diseases. (3,4)
Who is at risk for child maltreatment?
Some factors can increase the risk for abuse or neglect. The presence of these factors does not always mean that maltreatment will occur. Children are never to blame for the harm others do to them.
Age. Children under 4 years of age are at greatest risk for severe injury and death from abuse.
Family environment. Abuse and neglect can occur in families where there is a great deal of stress. The stress can result from a family history of violence, drug or alcohol abuse, poverty, and chronic health problems. Families that do not have nearby friends, relatives, and other social support are also at risk.
Community. On-going violence in the community may create an environment where child abuse is accepted.
How can we prevent child maltreatment?
The ultimate goal is to stop child maltreatment before it starts. Strategies that support parents and teach positive parenting skills are very important. Positive parenting skills include good communication, appropriate discipline, and responding to children’s physical and emotional needs. Programs to prevent child maltreatment also improve parent-child relationships and provide parents with social support.
Programs for parents can take many different forms. They may occur in parents’ homes, in schools, in medical or mental health clinics, or in other community settings. Programs may involve one-on-one or group sessions.
How to get help or report abuse?
To report abuse or get help, contact the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).
Where can I learn more?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children and Families
Child Welfare Information Gateway
FRIENDS National Resource Center
National Scientific Council on the Developing Child
1. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families. Child Maltreatment 2007 [online]. Washington (DC): Government Printing Office; 2009. [cited 2009 Apr 15]. Available from: www.acf.hhs.gov.
2. National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. Excessive stress disrupts the architecture of the developing brain, Working Paper No. 3 [online]. 2005 [cited 2008 Feb 20]. Available from: www.developingchild.net.
3. Felitti V, Anda R, Nordenberg D, Williamson D, Spitz A, Edwards V, et al. Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 1998; 14(4):245–58. 4. Runyan D, Wattam C, Ikeda R, Hassan F, Ramiro L. Child abuse and neglect by parents and caregivers. In: Krug E, Dahlberg LL, Mercy JA, Zwi AB, Lozano R, editors. World Report on Violence and Health. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2002. p. 59–86.
The article has been taken from CDC's Website for public awareness. For more information, please contact: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Injury Prevention and Control 1-800-CDC-INFO
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