Defining Major Types of Child Abuse and Neglect

The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA, 42 U.S.C.A. § 5106g) sets a minimum set of acts or behaviors that define child abuse. States provide their own definitions on child abuse and neglect that meet these minimum standards. Furthermore, there is little consensus on definitions used in research. The following definitions are provided in a Children’s Bureau publication as examples; actual definitions vary by state (HHS, 2008).

“Physical abuse is nonaccidental physical injury (ranging from minor bruises to severe fractures and/or death) as a result of punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, throwing, stabbing, choking, hitting (with a hand, stick, strap, or other object), burning, or otherwise harming a child, that is inflicted by a parent, caregiver, or other person who has responsibility for the child.…

Neglect is the failure of a parent, guardian, or other caregiver to provide for a child’s basic needs.…

Sexual abuse includes activities by a parent or caregiver such as fondling a child’s genitals, penetration, incest, rape, sodomy, indecent exposure, and exploitation through prostitution or the production of pornographic materials.…

Emotional abuse (or psychological abuse) is a pattern of behavior that impairs a child’s emotional development or sense of self-worth, This may include constant criticism, threats, or rejection, as well as withholding love, support, or guidance.”

SOURCE: HHS, 2008.

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