Child Abuse

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP
    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    Dr. Perlstein received his Medical Degree from the University of Cincinnati and then completed his internship and residency in pediatrics at The New York Hospital, Cornell medical Center in New York City. After serving an additional year as Chief Pediatric Resident, he worked as a private practitioner and then was appointed Director of Ambulatory Pediatrics at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.

Child abuse facts

  • Child abuse is when a caregiver either fails to provide appropriate care (neglect), purposefully inflicts harm, or harms a child while disciplining him or her.
  • Survivors of child maltreatment are at greater risk for physical, emotional, work, and relationship problems throughout childhood and into adulthood.
  • Common forms of child abuse include neglect, physical assault, emotional abuse, and sexual assault.
  • Child abuse risk factors include issues that involve the victim, family, perpetrator, and community.
  • Victims of child abuse often experience stress in reaction to the abuse as well as symptoms related to the kind of abuse they endured.
  • Child abuse symptoms and signs vary according to the child's developmental stage and age.
  • The treatment for child abuse involves first securing the safety of the child from further abuse and addressing any physical injuries from which the child may be suffering. The emotional needs of the child are then assessed and addressed.
  • There are many ways to prevent child abuse, and every state in the U.S. has child-abuse-reporting hotlines.

What is child abuse?

Child abuse is any injury that is intentionally inflicted on a child by a caregiver or during discipline. While the caregiver is usually an adult, most often the mother of the child, it can also include teenagers who are in the caregiving role, like a babysitter or a camp counselor. It is important to understand that child abuse must involve injury, whether physical or emotional, visible or not immediately visible. So while most child-care professionals (for example, psychiatrists, psychologists, pediatricians, and teachers) do not recommend the use of corporal punishment due to the risk of emotional damage and accidental physical injury, spanking a child does not automatically constitute child abuse unless the child sustains some kind of injury.

Many children worldwide suffer abuse every year, affecting all educational and socioeconomic levels, ethnicities, cultures, and religions. The most common form of child abuse in the United States is being left at home alone without adult supervision, also called supervision neglect. All forms of neglect account for about 75% of the child-abuse reports made to child welfare authorities. Other common forms of child abuse include physical assault, physical neglect, emotional abuse, and sexual assault that involves physical contact.

Child abuse has far-reaching negative effects on its victims and on society. Survivors of child maltreatment are at greater risk for physical, emotional, work, and relationship problems throughout childhood and into adulthood.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/21/2016

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