What is child abuse & neglect?

Sometimes it is difficult to understand exactly what child abuse and neglect are. Child abuse is any mistreatment of a child (someone under 18) by a parent or caregiver that results in harm or injury. Child abuse includes:

Physical abuse — an injury to a child that is not an accident; for example, hurting a child by hitting, burning, biting or shaking. Causes or threatens to cause a non-accidental physical or mental injury;

Physical neglect — neglects or refuses to provide the child food, clothing, medical care, shelter or supervision. This includes abandoning child, or failing to provide adequate supervision in relation to the child’s age and developmental level.

Sexual abuse — any sexual contact or exploitation of a child. This includes committing or allowing to be committed any illegal sexual act upon a child such as incest, rape, fondling, indecent exposure, child prostitution or allows a child to be used in any sexually explicit material.

Emotional abuse and neglect — an abusive parent may scare a child by threatening to leave him or her, or by being severely critical. A neglectful parent may not spend any time with the child or may never show the child any affection.

Child abuse can be a one-time occurrence but more often it is a pattern of behavior involving regular physical attacks or acts of deprivation or molestation. Frequently, the longer child abuse goes on, the more serious the consequences.

Why does child abuse and neglect occur? Child abuse can be of a physical, emotional, neglectful or sexual nature. Abuse and neglect can occur within families or in other settings where children are provided care or services, including schools, residential facilities, day care centers, and recreational or sporting programs.

There are many different underlying causes of child abuse, ranging from individual factors such as low self-esteem or isolation to societal factors such as community violence or the stresses of poverty.

Depending on the type of maltreatment and the individual circumstances of a perpetrator, the “causes” will vary. Child abuse is, however, more likely to occur with individuals who have low levels of tolerance for frustration, inappropriately developed coping skills, and misconceptions about what it means to be a parent or caretaker. Good judgment or reason goes out the window as the parent or caretaker releases anger or attempts to gratify some impulse or desire.

Child abuse cuts across all boundaries of economic level, race, ethnic heritage, and religious faith. Unfortunately, child abuse occurs in all segments of our society, but the risk factors are greater in families where parents:

  • Seem to be having economic, housing or personal problems;
  • Are isolated from their family or community;
  • Have difficulty controlling anger or stress;
  • Are dealing with physical or mental health issues;
  • Abuse alcohol or drugs; and/or
  • Appear uninterested in the care, nourishment or safety of their children.

By helping parents who might be struggling with any of these challenges, you could reduce the likelihood that their children will be abused or neglected. Reach out to the children, too, and show them that you care.

What actions can you take to prevent child abuse and neglect? Whether you’re a parent, caregiver, community member or teacher, you can do something to protect the children in our families, neighborhoods and schools from abuse and neglect.

Parents:

Parents can do something every day to positively support their children! Every single action you take can have enormous results when it comes to the safety and happiness of your children.

  • Plan a family fun night with your children.
  • Take notice of adults or older children who take an unusual interest in your child.
  • Ask your children about their day, and be sure to listen to what they have to say.
  • Attend events at your child’s school and get involved with their education.
  • When you get stressed, take a break. Don’t take it out on your children.

Teachers/Educators:

If you are a teacher, child care provider or any kind of educator, keep in mind that you are key in helping to prevent abuse and neglect. There are many simple ways you can help protect the safety of your students:

  • Volunteer your expertise at local abuse prevention and parenting programs.
  • Educate your co-workers and peers about abuse and neglect.
  • If you suspect or know of abuse or neglect, report it immediately to Child Protective Services.
    Tell the children in your school how important and valuable they are on a regular basis.
  • Identify creative ways parents can be involved with their children’s education.

Community Members:

You don’t have to be a parent or teacher to prevent abuse and neglect in your every day life. We can all do something to keep the children in our community safe and happy. Reach out to your neighbors, co-workers and members of your faith community every day with actions that can make a big difference:

  • Mentor a child or a parent through local volunteer programs.
  • Plan parenting or child abuse education programs at your workplace, church or other organizations.
  • Praise a child when they have tried hard at something or used good manners.
  • Babysit for a stressed out neighbor or friend.
  • Donate your time or money to local child abuse prevention organizations.

The most important ONE action you can take for a child who is being mistreated is to REPORT abuse if you suspect it. Keep in mind that just one phone call could save a child’s life. You don’t have to have all the proof to make a report. Trust your instincts – if you think a child is being abused or neglected, don’t delay. Report it to the authorities listed below. If you don’t take action, who will? If a child is in danger, CALL THE POLICE.

To report suspected abuse, CALL YOUR LOCAL CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES.

REPORT ABUSE, GET SUPPORT OR ASK QUESTIONS IN NORTHERN VIRGINIA:

Alexandria: 703-746-5800

Arlington: 703-228-1500

Fairfax: 703-324-7400

Loudoun: 703-771-5437

Prince William: 703-792-7500

If a child is in immediate danger, call 911.

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