Federal law defines child abuse and neglect as any recent act, or failure to act—on the part of a parent or caretaker—that results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or an act or failure to act that presents an imminent risk of serious harm to a child.
Child abuse and maltreatment fall into four categories: neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse and emotional abuse. While any of these forms of child abuse and maltreatment can present individually, they often occur together.
The failure to provide for a child’s basic needs is considered neglect and can include:
- Physical neglect, the lack of appropriate supervision or the failure to provide necessary food, shelter or medical care.
- Educational neglect, the failure to educate a child or attend to his/her special education needs.
- Emotional neglect, the inattention to a child’s emotional needs or the exposure of a child to domestic violence.
- Excessive corporal punishment is legally considered a form of neglect.
Physical injury—ranging from bruises to severe fractures or death—that results from punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, throwing, stabbing, hitting, burning or otherwise harming a child. Injuries that result from such behavior are considered abuse regardless of intent.
Sexual abuse is the use of a child for sexual gratification and activities such as the fondling of a child’s genitals, penetration, incest, rape, sodomy, indecent exposure and commercial exploitation through prostitution or the production of pornographic materials.
A sustained, repetitive pattern of behavior that demonstrably impairs a child’s emotional development or sense of self-worth is considered emotional abuse. This can include constant criticism, threats, rejection or confinement, as well as withholding love, support or guidance.