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Child Abuse & Neglect Resources

According to the Children’s Defense Fund, almost 900,000 children each year in America are reported abused or neglected, one every 40 seconds. Forty percent of these children get no services at all after the initial investigation. The other 60 percent get some services but not necessarily the right services. Forty to 80 percent of substantiated child abuse and neglect cases involve parental substance abuse, yet less than one-third get treatment.

Although the vast majority of abused and neglected children remain at home, each year more than 800,000 children spend time in foster care; on average children spend almost two and a half years in this care.

What is Child Abuse and Neglect

Child abuse and neglect are defined by Federal and State laws. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) provides minimum standards that States must incorporate in their statutory definitions of child abuse and neglect. The CAPTA definition of "child abuse and neglect," at a minimum, refers to:

  • "Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm"

The CAPTA definition of "sexual abuse" includes:

  • The employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or

  • The rape, and in cases of caretaker or interfamilial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children"

Types of Abuse

  1. Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is generally defined as "any nonaccidental physical injury to the child" and can include striking, kicking, burning, or biting the child, or any action that results in a physical impairment of the child. Abuse also includes acts or circumstances that threaten the child with harm or create a substantial risk of harm to the child's health or welfare.

  1. Neglect

Neglect is frequently defined as the failure of a parent or other person with responsibility for the child to provide needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision such that the child's health, safety, and well-being are threatened with harm. Approximately 24 States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands include failure to educate the child as required by law in their definition of neglect. Some States define medical neglect as failing to provide any special medical treatment or mental health care needed by the child and other include the withholding of medical treatment or nutrition from disabled infants with life-threatening conditions.

  1. Sexual Abuse/Exploitation

All States include sexual abuse in their definitions of child abuse. Some States refer in general terms to sexual abuse, while others specify various acts as sexual abuse. Sexual exploitation is an element of the definition of sexual abuse in most jurisdictions. Sexual exploitation includes allowing the child to engage in prostitution or in the production of child pornography.

  1. Emotional Abuse

Emotional maltreatment is also considered abuse or neglect. Approximately 32 States, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico provide specific definitions of emotional abuse or mental injury to a child. Typical language used in these definitions is "injury to the psychological capacity or emotional stability of the child as evidenced by an observable or substantial change in behavior, emotional response, or cognition," or as evidenced by "anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or aggressive behavior."

  1. Parental Substance Abuse

Parental substance abuse is an element of the definition of child abuse or neglect in some States. Circumstances that are considered abuse or neglect in some States include:

  • Prenatal exposure of a child to harm due to the mother's use of an illegal drug or other substance

  • Manufacture of a controlled substance in the presence of a child or on the premises occupied by a child

  • Allowing a child to be present where the chemicals or equipment for the manufacture of controlled substances are used or stored (three States)

  • Selling, distributing, or giving drugs or alcohol to a child

  • Use of a controlled substance by a caregiver that impairs the caregiver's ability to adequately care for the child

  1. Abandonment

In general, it is considered abandonment of the child when the parent's identity or whereabouts are unknown, the child has been left by the parent in circumstances in which the child suffers serious harm, or the parent has failed to maintain contact with the child or to provide reasonable support for a specified period of time.

Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect

Research has shown that parents and caregivers who have support-from family, friends, neighbors, and their communities-are more likely to provide safe and healthy homes for their children. When parents lack this support or feel isolated, on the other hand, they may be more likely to make poor decisions that can lead to neglect or abuse. Child Welfare Information Gateway connects child welfare and related professionals to comprehensive information and resources to help protect children and strengthen families. The website http://www.childwelfare.gov/ includes information and resources on supporting families, protective factors, public awareness, community activities, positive parenting, prevention programs, and more. Para información en español: http://www.childwelfare.gov/spanish

Child Abuse Prevention Network The Child Abuse Prevention Network is the flagship service of LifeNET (Life Network Engineering Technologies, Inc.) Begun in 1995, the Network now serves over 30,000 visitors a month. While most of our visitors come from the USA, we also have users from over 120 countries around the world. LifeNET has as its motto: Making a World of Difference for Families. The Network is doing that: most of our users are professionals, but many are families. Besides our public websites, we also operate private communities of professionals -- on a membership-only basis -- in order to assist them in solving complex problems in the field of child abuse. www.child-abuse.com.

National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information Child Welfare Information Gateway promotes the safety, permanency, and well-being of children, youth, and families by connecting child welfare, adoption, and related professionals as well as the general public to information, resources, and tools covering topics on child welfare, child abuse and neglect, out-of-home care, adoption, and more.

A service of the Children's Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, we provide access to print and electronic publications, websites, databases, and online learning tools for improving child welfare practice, including resources that can be shared with families. childwelfare.gov.

Trends in Child Poverty and Extreme Child Poverty The Children's Defense Fund (CDF) is a non-profit child advocacy organization that has worked relentlessly for over 35 years to ensure a level playing field for all children. We champion policies and programs that lift children out of poverty; protect them from abuse and neglect; and ensure their access to health care, quality education and a moral and spiritual foundation. Supported by foundation and corporate grants and individual donations, CDF advocates nationwide on behalf of children to ensure children are always a priority. Trends August 2008 PDF.