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Child abuse and neglect

Child abuse and neglect is any harm to a child that is not an accident. Child abuse and neglect is also called child maltreatment.

Child abuse and neglect takes many forms.

  • Neglect is when parents or caregivers fail to ensure a child's health and well-being. Neglect may result from not providing a child with appropriate shelter, schooling, clothing, medical care, or protection from hazards. A variety of short-term and long-term problems result, such as developmental delays and failure to thrive.
  • Physical abuse causes bodily injuries, such as bruises, burns, fractures, cuts, punctures, or organ damage. Physical abuse includes harming a fetus, such as when a pregnant woman has substance use disorder or is purposefully injured. Some states do not consider the use of substances by a pregnant woman to be physical abuse.
  • Emotional (psychological) abuse is a repeated pattern of intentional verbal or behavioral actions or lack of actions toward a child that give the message that he or she is worthless, flawed, unloved, unwanted, endangered, or only of value to meet someone else's needs. Withholding emotional support, isolating, or terrorizing a child are forms of emotional abuse. Intimate partner (domestic) violence that is witnessed by a child is also considered a form of emotional abuse.
  • Sexual abuse is any act with a child that is intended to sexually gratify an older child or adult. It includes any sexual activity that a child does not comprehend or consent to, or that is against the law. Exhibitionism, voyeurism, and exposing a child to pornography are also types of sexual abuse.

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