Child abuse is anything done by a person that causes serious risk or harm to a child. Abuse may be physical, emotional, or sexual.
Neglect is a type of abuse when a child’s caregiver—for example, a parent--does not meet the child’s physical, emotional, or educational needs. Child neglect means a child is not provided a safe home, proper clothing, healthy food, schooling, or medical care.
Abuse and neglect can happen at the same time.
Child abuse can happen at any age. A child under 1 year of age is at greatest risk for harm from child abuse. The reasons a caregiver abuses a child are often very complex and may be caused by more than one problem. Abuse is more likely when:
Not all abused children have the same symptoms. All children have accidents, but child abuse is often an injury or a series of injuries that cannot be explained as an accident. Signs of physical abuse may include:
Symptoms of a head injury caused by shaken baby syndrome can be mild to severe. The baby may be sleepy and less alert or very irritable. Other symptoms include poor feeding, vomiting, or seizures. If a child is severely injured, he may lose consciousness or stop breathing.
A child who has been abused may be nervous around adults or very aggressive toward other people. The child may also have a sudden change in the way they think, feel, or act.
Signs of sexual abuse may not be easy to see. It may not cause physical injury, or the child may have injuries, bleeding, or pain in the genital area. The child may show sexual behavior. The child may not tell anyone what has happened because the abuser has threatened the child or told them to keep it secret.
Signs of neglect may include being hungry and very thin, being poorly groomed, or smelling bad because the child is not allowed to bathe or have clean clothes.
Signs of emotional abuse may include depression, loss of interest in school and activities, anxiety, and lack self-confidence.
Any type of abuse can result in sadness, anger, nervousness, and fears. The child may become withdrawn, have trouble in school, try to hurt themselves or others, or attempt suicide.
Know where to call for help. You can contact a hotline, your healthcare provider, or a mental health professional. Most states have a child protective agency that you can call. Be prepared to give the child's name, address, age, and to say what is happening. Usually, you don’t have to give your name to make a report.
All states require healthcare providers to report suspected child abuse. The goals of child protection teams are to stop the abuse and help the family be safe for the children. Sometimes a child needs to live with a foster family for a while.
If you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected, take action right away. Don’t wait until you have proof. This delay may put the child's life in danger.
Many states and cities have hotlines you can call if you feel that you might abuse a child. Counseling can help both you and the child. You can get help from:
If a child is in danger and needs immediate help, call 911.
You can get more information from: