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.

What are the different types of child abuse?

The most common types of child maltreatment are neglect, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse:

  • Neglect is the failure of the child's caretaker to provide adequate care for the child. Examples of this form of child maltreatment include a lack of supplying adequate food, shelter, season-appropriate clothing, supervision, medical or mental health care, or a lack of providing appropriate emotional comfort. Supervision neglect is the most common form of child neglect.
  • Physical abuse is defined as a caretaker inflicting physical injury on a child through assault. That includes corporal punishment that results in physical injuries, like bruises, scratches, welts, or broken bones.
  • Emotional abuse involves statements by a caretaker that can injure a child's sense of self-esteem. Examples of emotional abuse include calling the child negative names, cursing at, or otherwise insulting the child.
  • Sexual abuse is defined as exposing the child to inappropriate sexual content, behavior, or contact. That can include allowing the child to see pornography or sexual acts between adults or a caretaker having sexual contact with the child.

Neglect, physical, and sexual abuse are the types of child abuse that usually result in reporting to and intervention by the authorities.

What are risk factors for child abuse?

The risk factors for child abuse include issues that pertain to the victim, perpetrator, family, and community situations. Children under 4 years of age and those with special physical, developmental, or mental-health needs are at higher risk for being victims of maltreatment. Younger caregivers who have had child-abuse, mental-health, or drug problems in their family of origin are more at risk for abusing children. Also, adults who have trouble understanding the needs of children and appropriate parenting skills, as well as those who are single parents, of low socioeconomic status, or have transient other adult caregivers (like the parent's friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend) in the home are also more at risk of becoming child abusers.

Family risk factors for child maltreatment include social isolation, fragmentation, or parents who are stressed, engaging in domestic violence, or the presence of poor parent-child relationships. Community issues that increase the likelihood that child abuse occurs include low community socioeconomic status, high unemployment rates, high availability of alcohol or other drugs (for example, alcohol through liquor stores or bars), and poor community social connections.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/21/2016

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