The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1.800.799.SAFE (7233)
National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD
What Is Child Abuse?
Child abuse is an act by a parent or caretaker that results or allows a child to be subjected to emotional harm, physical injury, sexual assault, or death. Emotional abuse, neglect, physical abuse and sexual abuse are different types of child abuse.
Regardless of the type of child abuse, the result is serious emotional or physical harm.
Almost 5 children die every day as a result of child abuse. Three-fourths of those children are under the age of four.
It is estimated that between 60-85% of child fatalities due to maltreatment are not recorded as such on death certificates.
Child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and at all levels of education.
Long-Term Effects of Child Abuse:
While there are several types of child abuse, all child abuse leaves lasting scars long after broken bones heal.
Difficulties with relationships. Growing up in a negligent and abusive environment damages the ability to easily trust another person.
Emotional Irregularities. Thanks to being unable to express emotions as children, adult child abuse survivors may have unexplained emotional irregularity, like unexplained depression or anxiety.
Core feelings of being worthless and damaged. It’s very difficult to overcome the feelings that, as an abused child, you were to blame for the abuse. As adults, it’s common to accept that those core feelings of worthlessness are facts. This may lead to settling for less than deserved in every aspect of adult life.
What Are The Types of Child Abuse?
As there can be a number of types of child abuse, it is important to note that most children are abused in a number of ways and may exhibit a great number of symptoms.
Physical Child Abuse:
Physical Child Abuse is when a parent, loved one, family friend, or caregiver causes any non-accidental physical injury to a child. There are many signs of physical abuse. If you see any of the following signs, please get help right away. Nearly 29% of adults report that they were physically abused as a child. Physical abuse may include striking, kicking, burning, biting, hair pulling, choking, throwing, shoving, whipping or any other action that injures a child. Even if the caregiver didn’t mean to cause injury, when the child is injured – it is abuse. Physical discipline from a parent that does not injure or impair a child is not considered abuse; however non-violent alternatives are always available.
Physical abuse can result in:
- Bruises, blisters, burns, cuts, and scratches
- Internal injuries, brain damage
- Broken bones, sprains, dislocated joints
- Emotional and psychological harm
- Lifelong injury, death
Signs of physical abuse in parent or caregiver:
- Can’t or won’t explain injury of child, or explains it in a way that doesn’t make sense
- Displays aggression to child or is overly anxious about child’s behavior
- Indicates child is not trustworthy, a liar, evil, a troublemaker
- Delays or prevents medical care for child
- Takes child to different doctors or hospitals
- Keeps child from school, church, clubs
- Has history of violence and/or abuse
Signs and symptoms of physical abuse in a child:
- Any injury to a child who is not crawling yet
- Visible and severe injuries
- Injuries at different stages of healing
- On different surfaces of the body
- Unexplained or explained in a way that doesn’t make sense
- Distinctive shape
- Frequency, timing and history of injuries (frequent, after weekends, vacations, school absences)
- Aggression toward peers, pets, other animals
- Seems afraid of parents or other adults
- Fear, withdrawal, depression, anxiety
- Wears long sleeves out of season
- Violent themes in fantasy, art, etc.
- Nightmares, insomnia
- Reports injury, severe discipline
- Immaturity, acting out, emotional and behavior extremes
- Self-destructive behavior or attitudes
Child neglect is when a parent or caregiver does not give the care, supervision, affection and support needed for a child’s health, safety, and well-being. Child neglect may involve:
- Physical neglect and inadequate supervision
- Emotional neglect
- Medical neglect
- Educational neglect
Physical Child Neglect: Children need enough care to be healthy and enough supervision to be safe. Adults that care for children must provide clothing, food and drink. A child also needs safe, healthy shelter, and adequate supervision.
Examples of physical child neglect:
- Deserting a child or refusing to take custody of a child who is under your care
- Repeatedly leaving a child in another’s custody for days or weeks at a time
- Failing to provide enough healthy food and drink
- Failing to provide clothes that are appropriate to the weather
- Failing to ensure adequate personal hygiene
- Not supervising a child appropriately
- Leaving the child with an inappropriate caregiver
- Exposing a child to unsafe/unsanitary environments or situations
Emotional Child Neglect: Children require enough affection and attention to feel loved and supported. If a child shows signs of psychological illness, it must be treated.
Examples of emotional child neglect:
- Ignoring a child’s need for attention, affection and emotional support
- Exposing a child to extreme or frequent violence, especially domestic violence
- Permitting a child to use drugs, use alcohol, or engage in crime
- Keeping a child isolated from friends and loved ones
Medical Neglect Some states do not prosecute parents who withhold certain types of medical care for religious reasons, but they may get a court order to protect the child’s life. Parents and caregivers must provide children with appropriate treatment for injuries and illness. They must also provide basic preventive care to make sure their child stays safe and healthy.
Examples of medical neglect:
- Not taking child to hospital or appropriate medical professional for serious illness or injury
- Keeping a child from getting needed treatment
- Not providing preventative medical and dental care
- Failing to follow medical recommendations for a child
Educational Neglect: Parents and schools share responsibility for making sure children have access to opportunities for academic success.
Examples of educational neglect:
- Allowing a child to miss too much school
- Not enrolling a child in school (or not providing comparable home-based education)
- Keeping a child from needed special education services
Signs of Child Neglect: There is no “smoking gun” for most child neglect cases. While even one instance of neglect can cause lifelong harm to a child, neglect often requires a pattern of behavior over a period of time for the child to develop symptoms:
Signs of Child Neglect in Caregivers/Parents:
There is no “typical neglectful parent.” Nevertheless, certain indicators may suggest a parent or caregiver needs help to nurture and protect the child or children in their care:
- Displays indifference or lack of care toward the child
- Depression, apathy, drug/alcohol abuse and other mental health issues
- Denies problems with child or blames the child for problems
- Views child negatively
- Relies on child for own care and well-being
Signs of Neglect in the Child:
While a single indicator may not be cause for alarm, children who are neglected often show that they need help:
- Clothing that is the wrong size, in disrepair, dirty, or not right for the weather
- Often hungry, stockpiles food, seeks food, may even show signs of malnutrition (like distended belly, protruding bones)
- Very low body weight, height for age
- Often tired, sleepy, listless
- Hygiene problems, body odor
- Talks about caring for younger siblings, not having a caregiver at home
- Untreated medical and dental problems, incomplete immunizations
- Truancy, frequently incomplete homework, frequent changes of school
Child Sexual Abuse:
Child sexual abuse occurs when an adult uses a child for sexual purposes or involves a child in sexual acts. It also includes when a child who is older or more powerful uses another child for sexual gratification or excitement. Over 21% of adults report being sexually abused as a child.
Sexual abuse of children includes:
- Non-contact abuse
- Making a child view a sex act
- Making a child view or show sex organs
- Inappropriate sexual talk
- Contact abuse
- Fondling and oral sex
- Making children perform a sex act
- Child prostitution and child pornography
Signs of sexual abuse in parent or caregiver:
- Parent fails to supervise child
- Unstable adult presence
- Jealous/possessive parent
- Sexual relationships troubled or dysfunctional
- Parent relies on child for emotional support
Signs of sexual abuse in a child:
- Difficulty sitting, walking, bowel problems
- Torn, stained, bloody undergarments
- Bleeding, bruises, pain, swelling, itching of genital area
- Frequent urinary tract infections or yeast infections
- Any sexually transmitted disease or related symptoms
- Reports sexual abuse
- Doesn’t want to change clothes (e.g., for P.E.)
- Withdrawn, depressed, anxious
- Eating disorders, preoccupation with body
- Aggression, delinquency, poor peer relationships
- Poor self-image, poor self-care, lack of confidence
- Sudden absenteeism, decline in school performance
- Substance abuse, running away, recklessness, suicide attempts
- Sleep disturbance, fear of bedtime, nightmares, bed wetting (at advanced age)
- Sexual acting out, excessive masturbation
- Unusual or repetitive soothing behaviors (hand-washing, pacing, rocking, etc.)
- Sexual behavior or knowledge that is advanced or unusual
Child Emotional Abuse:
Child Emotional Abuse occurs when a parent or caregiver harms a child’s mental and social development, or causes severe emotional harm. While a single incident may be abuse, most often emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior that causes damage over time. Nearly 11% of adults report being emotionally abused as a child.
Emotional abuse can include:
- Rejecting or ignoring: telling a child he or she is unwanted or unloved, showing little interest in child, not initiating or returning affection, not listening to the child, not validating the child’s feelings, breaking promises, cutting child off in conversation
- Shaming or humiliating: calling a child names, criticizing, belittling, demeaning, berating, mocking, using language or taking action that takes aim at child’s feelings of self-worth
- Terrorizing: accusing, blaming, insulting, punishing with or threatening abandonment, harm or death, setting a child up for failure, manipulating, taking advantage of a child’s weakness or reliance on adults, slandering, screaming, yelling
- Isolating: keeping child from peers and positive activities, confining child to small area, forbidding play or other stimulating experiences
- Corrupting: engaging child in criminal acts, telling lies to justify actions or ideas, encouraging misbehavior
Signs of emotional abuse in parent or caregiver:
- Routinely ignores, criticizes, yells at or blames child
- Plays favorites with one sibling over another
- Poor anger management or emotional self-regulation
- Stormy relationships with other adults, disrespect for authority
- History of violence or abuse
- Untreated mental illness, alcoholism or substance abuse
Delays in development, including:
- Wetting bed, pants
- Speech disorders
- Health problems like ulcers, skin disorders
- Obesity and weight fluctuation
- Habits like sucking, biting, rocking
- Learning disabilities and developmental delays
- Overly compliant or defensive
- Extreme emotions, aggression, withdrawal
- Anxieties, phobias, sleep disorders
- Destructive or anti-social behaviors (violence, cruelty, vandalism, stealing, cheating, lying)
- Behavior that is inappropriate for age (too adult, too infantile)
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
What Do I Say To An Abused Child?
If you’re in a situation where a child discloses abuse to you, there are a number of steps you can take.
- Listen carefully to the child. Avoid expressing your own views on the matter. A reaction of shock or disbelief could cause the child to ‘shut down’, retract or stop talking
- Let them know they’ve done the right thing. Reassurance can make a big impact to the child who may have been keeping the abuse secret
- Tell them it’s not their fault. Abuse is never the child’s fault and they need to know this
- Say you will take them seriously. A child could keep abuse secret in fear they won’t be believed. They’ve told you because they want help and trust you’ll be the person to believe them and help them
- Don’t talk to the alleged abuser. Confronting the alleged abuser about what the child’s told you could make the situation a lot worse for the child
- Explain what you’ll do next. If age appropriate, explain to the child you’ll need to report the abuse to someone who will be able to help
- Don’t delay reporting the abuse. The sooner the abuse is reported after the child discloses the better. Report as soon as possible so details are fresh in your mind and action can be taken quickly.
- Child abuse is rarely faked, so it’s important to take any allegations of abuse seriously. If a child comes to you with claims of abuse, call 1-800-4AChild to report abuse or get help.
- Reassure the abused child that it was not their fault; that they did nothing wrong. It’s hard to come forward and the feelings of guilt are strong for an abused child.
- Don’t play interrogator and fire questions at the child because it will only confuse them and make them feel as though you’re questioning the validity of their claims of abuse.
- Remain as calm as you can.
- Make sure that the child is safe. Do not put yourself or that child at risk. Alert the professionals to the abuse.
Child Abuse Hotlines:
National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (US, its territories, and Canada)
National Youth Crisis Hotline – 1-800-HIT-HOME
For Parents: 1-855-4-A-PARENT
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).
Canadian Child Abuse Hotlines:
Child Abuse Prevention: 310-1234 (no area code needed)
Child Abuse Resources For Parents:
National Parent Helpline Resources and an anonymous helpline staffed by volunteers to help foster emotional support for parents and build stronger families.
Parents Anonymous is a child abuse prevention organization dedicated to supporting families creating strong communities and safe homes for all children.
Professional Resources for Child Abuse:
Nurse-Family Partnership – a voluntary, free maternal and childhood health program, Nurse-Family Partnership gives first-time moms valuable knowledge and support throughout pregnancy and until their babies reach two years of age. Partnering first-time moms with caring nurse home visitors empowers these mothers to confidently create a better life for their children and themselves.
Darkness to Light – nationally available program proven to increase knowledge, improve attitudes and change child protective behaviors. This site also has a list of state-by-state resources.
National Children’s Alliance: is a professional membership organization dedicated to helping local communities respond to allegations of child abuse in ways that are effective and efficient – and put the needs of child victims first.
For Victims of Child Abuse:
Childhelp – dedicated to preventing and treating child abuse. If you are being abused, know that no one has the right to do this to you. Please call the hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD, then press one. The hotline is confidential which means you don’t have to tell them who you are. It is also free, so no one will see the number on your phone bill.
This hotline is staffed by degreed, professional counselors who are available 24 hours a day, every day of the year. All calls are anonymous and toll-free. Use this number if you know or suspect a child is being abused; if you are a child who is being abused; of if you abuse or fear you may abuse your children
Page last audited 7/2018