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About Child Abuse & Neglect


What is Child Abuse & Neglect?

Under the law, an abused or neglected child is any child under 18 whose parent, or any other person responsible for the care of the child:

  • causes, or threatens to cause, a physical or mental injury except for an accident

  • fails to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or caring support

  • abandons the child

  • fails to provide the kind of supervision necessary for a child’s age or level of development

  • commits, or allows to be committed, any illegal sexual act involving the child — including incest, rape, fondling, indecent exposure, prostitution — or allows the child to be used in any sexually explicit visual material


Child abuse is not usually just one physical attack or just one instance of failure to meet a child’s most basic needs. Usually child abuse is a pattern of behavior that takes place over a period of time. The longer child abuse continues, the more serious it becomes, the more serious is the injury to the child and the more difficult it is to stop.


Who are the Abusers?

There are no monsters. Abusive parents can be your friends, your neighbors or your relatives. They are ordinary people, caught in life situations beyond their control. It is a myth that child abuse occurs only among poor families. Child maltreatment affects all economic, racial, social, ethnic and religious groups.

What is Child Sexual Abuse? 

Sexual abuse is a problem that 1 in 10 children will experience before they turn 18. To truly address this problem, we need programs that protect children from sexual abuse alongside evidence-based treatments for children who have already been victimized. In order to create communities free from child sexual abuse, we need to prioritize public awareness and adult education programs that teach the signs of child sexual abuse and the steps necessary to protect children.


Parents and caregivers can support healthy development
of children and the prevention of child sexual abuse. 
For example: 


  • Young children should know the proper words for their body parts and understand that there are certain parts of their body that are private.

  • Parents should answer questions children have about their bodies honestly and let children know they can talk about anything that is bothering them.

  • For older children, parents can have conversations about healthy sexuality and respectful, loving relationships.

  • Children also need to know that no adult should ever tell them to keep a hurtful secret.  Some secrets like birthday gifts are OK, but some secrets are not.

If parents and other professionals want to learn more about how to recognize and respond appropriately to suspected child sexual abuse, the Stewards of Children program can be offered in your child's school or in your community free of charge.


For more information about Stewards of Children,

call 1-800CHILDREN  (800-244-5373). 

Why Does Child Abuse Happen?

There is no easy answer to this question, because many factors are involved. However, child abuse is most likely to occur when parents are struggling with:

  • Stress…Pressures from money problems, everyday frustrations, illness or heavy responsibilities.

  • A painful childhood…Adults who were mistreated as children may, without meaning to, continue the pattern of abuse with their own children.

  • Alcohol or other drugs…can blind a parent to a child’s needs or may reduce inhibitions and tolerance levels so that parents may be more likely to lash out.

  • Isolation…Without friends or relatives nearby, parents can feel overwhelmed by the demands of raising a child.

  • Inexperience with children or unrealistic expectations…If parents don’t know what to expect from children, they may expect too much. Besides lacking the parenting skills necessary to raise a child, the parents may have no models of successful family relationships from which to learn.

  • Immaturity…Very young, insecure parents often can’t understand their child’s behavior and needs.

  • Unmet emotional needs…Parents may expect children to take care of them and to satisfy their need for love, protection and self-esteem.


If I See Abuse, Should I Report It?

Witnesses to abuse or neglect may experience anger, dread or anxiety, and they will certainly experience a lot of confusion. Although deciding to report suspected child abuse can be a difficult process, it is an important first step toward protecting a child who might be in danger.

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