Preventing Child Abuse & Neglect

What are child abuse and neglect?

These important public health problems include all types of abuse and neglect of a child under the age of 18 by a parent, caregiver, or another person in a custodial role (such as clergy, a coach, a teacher) that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child. There are four common types of abuse and neglect:

  • Physical abuse is the intentional use of physical force that can result in physical Examples include hitting, kicking, shaking, burning, or other shows of force against a child.
  • Sexual abuse involves pressuring or forcing a child to engage in sexual acts. It includes behaviors such as fondling, penetration, and exposing a child to other sexual activities.
  • Emotional abuse refers to behaviors that harm a child’s self-worth or emotional well-being. Examples include name calling, shaming, rejection, withholding love, and threatening.
  • Neglect is the failure to meet a child’s basic physical and emotional needs. These needs include housing, food, clothing, education, and access to medical care.

Child abuse and neglect result from the interaction of a number of individual, family, societal, and environmental factors. Child abuse and neglect are not inevitable—safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments are key for prevention. Preventing child abuse and neglect can also prevent other forms of violence, as various types of violence are interrelated and share many risk and protective factors, consequences, and effective prevention tactics. Using a public health approach, we can prevent child maltreatment before it starts.

How big is the problem?

Child abuse and neglect are common. At least 1 in 7 children have experienced child abuse and/or neglect in the past year, and this is likely an underestimate.

Children living in poverty experience more abuse and neglect. Rates of child abuse and neglect are 5 times higher for children in families with low socio-economic status compared to children in families with higher socio-economic status.

Child maltreatment is costly. In the United States, the total lifetime economic burden associated with child abuse and neglect was approximately $124 billion in 2008. This economic burden rivals the cost of other high profile public health problems, such as stroke and type 2 diabetes.

How can we prevent child abuse and neglect?

Child abuse and neglect are serious public health issues with far-reaching consequences for the youngest and most vulnerable members of society. Every child is better when he/she and his/her peers have safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments.

The strategies and approaches in the technical package represent different levels of the social ecology with efforts intended to impact individual behaviors as well as the relationship, family, school, community, and societal factors that influence risk and protective factors for child abuse and neglect. They are intended to work together and to be used in combination in a multi-level, multi-sector effort to prevent violence.

Strengthen economic supports to families

  • Strengthening household financial security
  • Family-friendly work policies

Change social norms to support parents and positive parenting 

  • Public engagement and enhancement campaigns
  • Legislative approaches to reduce corporal punishment

Provide quality care and education early in life 

  • Preschool enrichment with family engagement
  • Improved quality of child care through licensing and accreditation

Enhance parenting skills to promote healthy child development 

  • Early childhood home visitation
  • Parenting skills and family relationships approaches

Intervene to lessen harms and prevent future risk 

  • Enhanced primary care
  • Behavioral parent training programs
  • Treatment to lessen harms of abuse and neglect exposure
  • Treatment to prevent problem behavior and later involvement in violence

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov

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