Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness

A Brief Overview of Child Abuse in the United States

The United States has the worst record in the industrialized nation of child abuse and neglect.  There are 3.3 reports of child abuse and neglect involving 6 million children in the United States each year.  Five children die an abuse-related death each day, a number that has significantly risen over the past decade ( The reasons for the rise in child abuse are not clear at this time.

 What is Child Abuse, Who Does it Affect, and What are the Signs?

“The term ‘child abuse’ can be defined as any behavior directed toward a child by a parent, guardian, care giver, other family member, or other adult, that endangers or impairs a child’s physical or emotional health and development” (National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence). There are four major categories of child abuse: neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse (National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence).

Parents and caregivers may love their children but not care for them well.  Some common reasons for child abuse and neglect are:
  • The parents suffered abuse as children and/or lacked a positive model of parenting and family life growing up.
  • Immaturity, lack of parenting preparation skills, and/or lack of understanding of child development.
  • Financial pressures, poor living conditions, and/or inability to provide for the family’s needs may cause parents to feel overwhelmed and unable to cope.
  • Substance abuse, which increases the chances for the eruption of violent behavior, loss of self-control, and failure to meet child’s physical and emotional needs.
(National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence)

Child abuse affects members of society of all socioeconomic, cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. However, there are some risk factors, which include lack of parenting skills, economic difficulties or poverty, substance abuse, domestic violence, and previous victimization (National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence).

Neglect is characterized by the continued failure to provide a child with the appropriate care and protection. Some examples are a lack of appropriate shelter, clothing, food, medical care, supervision, and so forth.  The following are signs of neglect:
  • Child is inadequately clothed.
  • Child appears to be poorly nourished.
  • Child is consistently tired or listless.
  • Poor hygiene or an obsession with cleanliness.
  • Inconsistent/poor school attendance.
  • Child is left alone for long periods of time and/or in dangerous situations on a regular basis.
  • Evidence that medical needs are not being met.
  • Child is unable to relate well to adults and/or has trouble forming close friendships.
(National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence)

Physical abuse is the most easily detected. Some of the signs are:
  • Injuries with no explanation, especially those located on parts of the body not usually affected by normal activities (i.e., eyes, mouth, back, genital areas, etc).
  • Repeated injuries such as bruises, welts or burns, especially those where the shape of an object is visible (i.e., belt, cigarette, electrical cord, etc).
  • Abrasions or lacerations with no explanation.
  • Injuries in various stages of healing which appear in a regular pattern or are grouped together.
  • Unexplained fractures.
  • Burns that were caused by friction (usually found on limbs, neck, or torso and indicate a rope or cord may have been used to tie up the victim), are small and circular (may have been inflicted by a cigarette or cigar), are in a "doughnut" shape on the buttocks (may indicate a child was dipped or forced to sit in scalding liquid), or that shows the pattern of an object (i.e., an iron or fireplace tool).
  • Behaviors that are hyperactive, disruptive, and aggressive, or complacent, shy, withdrawn, or uncommunicative.
  • Parental denial that anything is wrong, unlikely explanation for the child’s injuries, delays in obtaining medical care, and/or inadequate care to injuries, which occur with increasing frequency or severity.
(National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence)

Emotional abuse is the most difficult form of child abuse to identify and includes verbal assaults and the withholding of emotional support.  These verbal assaults include language that is demeaning, threatening, blaming, intimidating, shaming, and/or unfairly critical.  This type of abuse can damage the child’s self-esteem and confidence and can cause lifelong scars. Some signs of emotional abuse are:
  • Extreme patterned behaviors (i.e., lying, fighting and stealing).
  • Overly-aggressive behaviors.
  • Inappropriate acting out.
  • Child appears to be defensive or shy.
  • Child appears to be overly independent.
  • Child is verbally abusive to others, usually using the same language used toward him or her.
(National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence)

Sexual Abuse includes rape, sexual molestation, sodomy, incest, exhibitionism, exploitation, child pornography, and/or exposure to pornographic material. It can be physical (i.e., rape) or non-physical (i.e., indecent exposure or obscene phone call). Sexual abuse may cause temporary emotional disturbances, such as fear, guilt, confusion, distrust, and anxiety. Some signs of sexual abuse are:
  • Withdrawal.
  • Aggression.
  • Extreme anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Difficulty at school.
  • Nightmares.
  • Running away from home.
In some cases of sexual abuse, symptoms may not emerge until adulthood (National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence).

Effects of Child Abuse on Development

The age of the abused child determines the type of negative effects that the child will display:
  • Between birth and one year, children often develop issues with language development, motor control, social responsiveness, and trust of the environment.
  • Between one and four years of age, children may become passive and hyper-vigilant about his or her surroundings, with little interest in autonomy.
  • Between four and eight years old, children may have more obvious developmental delays and difficulties relating to peers and transitioning into a structured learning environment. Because the rigidity in their home lives does not require self-direction, these children may also have difficulty internalizing standards.
  • Between eight and twelve years old, children may feel noticeably isolated and alienated from peers and is likely to have poor self-esteem and body image, which may lead to self-injurious behavior (i.e., cutting). These children are at risk for running away and teen pregnancy.
(Center on the Family)

What Can You Do?
  • Know the signs.
  • Raise awareness.
  • If you suspect child abuse, call the National Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-ACHILD.
  • There are many agencies where you can donate to help abused children.

Childhelp. Retrieved from
Center on the Family. Understanding Child Abuse and Neglect. Retrieved from
National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence. Child Abuse Information. Retrieved from

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