Child abuse and neglect are terrible crimes that impact thousands of children around the U.S. Child abuse is a tragedy that can lead to serious short- and long-term effects on a child, from physical injuries to emotional trauma. If you are someone in a position to potentially help a child, such as a parent, teacher or caregiver, learn what factors can increase a child’s risk of suffering abuse or neglect, as well as common signs of different types of abuse. Intervening could save a child’s life.
Risk Factors Connected to Child Abuse and Neglect
Some adults intentionally abuse children while others are only guilty of neglect. Both are serious issues that could negatively impact a child for life. Although a parent, teacher or caregiver in any situation could abuse or neglect a child, certain factors increase the risk of a child suffering abuse or neglect. Historically, most child abuse and neglect cases share a few common factors.
- Domestic violence. A history of domestic violence in the home or family could increase the odds that the child will become a victim if he or she is not already. Domestic violence can also be damaging for a child to witness.
- Substance use disorders. A drug addiction or alcohol dependency disorder could be a sign that an adult is unable to properly care for a child or will make poor parenting choices. Some people can also become dangerous, violent or aggressive under the influence.
- Low socioeconomic status. Lack of education or financial resources can lead to child neglect, such as having no clean clothes, food or shelter. Poor parenting skills, an overcrowded house, truancy, poor child hygiene and malnutrition are common red flags.
- Mental illness. An undiagnosed mental illness could impede an adult’s ability to properly care for a child. Untreated depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or other mental illnesses can make a caregiver incompetent or abusive.
If you know a child who is contending with these risk factors, keep a careful eye on him or her and watch for signs of abuse or neglect.
Types and Signs of Child Abuse and Neglect
Intentionally injuring or threatening a child is abuse. Failing to meet the expected standards of childcare is neglect. Abuse and neglect can leave lasting marks on a child, physically and psychologically. It is critical for caregivers and others who spend time with the child to be aware of the signs of abuse and neglect so they can take prompt action to remove the child from the dangerous situation before it is too late.
- Physical abuse or neglect. Physically injuring a child or using excessive physical punishment can include hitting, punching, pinching, burning or slapping the child. Signs can include frequent or unexplained injuries, a child who is jumpy or flinches at sudden movements, or a child with injuries in a pattern, such as strap marks from a belt.
- Emotional or psychological abuse. Emotional abuse can come in the form of yelling, belittling, humiliating, isolating, shaming, bullying or threatening the child. Signs can include depression, anxiety, mood swings, withdrawal, self-hate, fear, and suicidal thoughts or actions.
- Sexual abuse. Any sexual acts between the adult and child, including sexual touching, forcing the child to watch sexual acts, child pornography, rape or sodomy. Signs can include genital injuries, emotional changes and inappropriate knowledge of sexual acts.
If you suspect child abuse or neglect, act immediately. Call 911 if the child appears to be in imminent danger. Otherwise, report suspected maltreatment to Child Protective Services. Continue reporting the issue until an officer has investigated the situation and either verified that abuse is not occurring or safely relocated the child. Reporting suspected child abuse or neglect could save a life.