Child Abuse

Child abuse occurs when a parent, caregiver, or other adult acts in such a way (or fails to act in such a way) that results in harm to a child. Harm can take various forms: physical injury, emotional injury, risk of serious harm, and even death.

What Is Child Abuse?

According to ChildHelp, child abuse is when a person, usually a parent or caregiver, acts or fails to act in such a way that it causes injury, death, emotional harm, or risk of serious harm to a child. There are several types of child abuse:

How Common Is Child Abuse?

The Children's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that in 2014 approximately 3.2 million children in the United States were reported to state protective services as possible victims of abuse. Approximately 19 percent of these children were found to be actual victims of abuse or neglect. The most common form of abuse found was neglect (75%), followed by physical abuse (17%) and sexual abuse (8.3%). Very young children were found to be particularly vulnerable, with 27.4 percent of victims under three years old. In 2014 there were 1,580 known deaths due to child abuse in the United States.

What Are the Signs of an Abused Child?

Often children will try to live their lives in spite of an abusive or neglectful situation. They may fear being taken away from a parent that they love or family situation that they know and find ways to minimize the difficulties. If asked by a teacher or concerned adult about injuries or changes in behavior, they may try to make excuses. However, when a child reports being abused, the report should be acted upon. The following indicators may suggest abuse and should be further explored:

Physical abuse:

Sexual abuse:

Emotional abuse:


Child Abuse

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children's Bureau. (2015). Child Maltreatment 2013. Available online at: (accessed July 31, 2015). Table by Lumina Datamatics Ltd. © 2016 Cengage Learning®.

What Are the Characteristics of a Child Abuser?

The person who abuses a child is often known and trusted by the child. Usually it is a family member or friend of the family who is the abuser. In 2014, 78.1 percent of abusers were parents and 6.3 percent were relatives other than a parent. Slightly more than half were women, and more than four-fifths were between the ages of 18 and 44.

Often the abuser has been a victim of abuse and through that experience has learned to be abusive. Abusers often have a history of alcohol or drug abuse, mental disorder, personal stress, bad temper, and family dysfunction. Social or community characteristics may play a part as well, including inadequate housing or employment opportunities in an area, and a lack of social services.

What Should a Person Do If Child Abuse Is Suspected?

When confronted with a situation where child abuse is suspected, the person should show concern for the child, reassure and support the child, and report the situation to state protective services. While most states have mandatory reporting laws for child abuse, incidents of child abuse often go unreported.

If one suspects that a child is in immediate danger, emergency services should be called.

The National Child Abuse Hotline provides support and encouragement to children and parents in crisis as well as those who suspect a child may be a victim of abuse. It also offers information, literature, and referrals to local agencies and resources. Hotline counselors cannot make a report of child abuse for a caller, but they can assist the caller with the process. The hotline number is 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).

See also Sexual Abuse


Books and Articles

Crosson-Tower, Cynthia. Understanding Child Abuse and Neglect. 9th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2013.

Merryn, Erin. An Unimaginable Act: Overcoming and Preventing Child Abuse through Erin's Law. Deerfield Beach, FL: HCI, 2013.


Child Welfare Information Gateway. “Responding to Child Abuse and Neglect.” (accessed March 24, 2016).

Child Welfare Information Gateway. “What Is Child Abuse and Neglect? Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms.” (accessed March 24, 2016).

Childhelp. “The Issue of Child Abuse.” (accessed March 24, 2016).

Children's Bureau. “Child Maltreatment 2014.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (accessed March 24, 2016).


Childhelp. 4350 E. Camelback Rd., Bldg. F250, Phoenix, AZ 85018. Telephone: 480-922-8212. Website: (accessed March 24, 2016).

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (accessed April 30, 2016).

Prevent Child Abuse America. 228 South Wabash Avenue, 10th floor, Chicago, IL 60604. Telephone: 312-663-3520. Toll-free: 1-800-2445373. Website: (accessed March 24, 2016).

* insomnia is an abnormal inability to get adequate sleep.

Disclaimer:   This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.

(MLA 8th Edition)