Become a U.S. Child Advocate

Acknowledgement and prevention of child abuse starts with you. The United States sees some of the highest rates of child abuse compared to any other industrialized nation, a truly horrible problem that requires participation at every level of society to solve. About 3.3 million reports of child abuse involving more than 6 million kids are made every single year. By 2010 around 5 children were thought to die each day because of child abuse. This trend cannot go on – but with a degree in a field like child psychology, you can help change it.

The legal definition of child abuse is an act, or failure to act, on the part of a parent or caretaker that results in physical harm, emotional harm or even death. Sometimes sexual abuse is given a separate definition that defines the active exploitation of a child, but child abuse can take many different forms. Read more to find out how to recognize and stop child abuse.

Child Abuse in the U.S.

Who: A number of risk factors are associated with child abuse, chief among them domestic problems like spousal abuse and a history of child abuse in the families of perpetrators. In fact, many types of domestic stress can increase the chance of child abuse, from single-parent families to young pregnancies and large number of young children. Next, individual problems such as mental conditions or substance abuse are driving factors in abuse. Many types of neglect derive from lack of knowledge or carelessness on behalf of parents. Low incomes and poverty conditions only exacerbate these problems. Oklahoma is said to have the highest child abuse rates.

How: Most child abuse (around 70 percent of it) falls under the category of neglect. This can mean inattention, disregard for safety, and lack of proper food or water, among other things. After this, outright physical abuse that leads to injuries is the next most common form of abuse – and is frequently tied to other domestic problems. Then comes sexual abuse, which accounts for around 10 percent of known abuse cases. This is followed by emotional abuse, which is a more nebulous and difficult area that has many forms but leads to lasting psychological damage. Finally, there is a catch-all category for a variety of other acts that also count as child abuse, such as medical neglect and specific types of harm.

Results: The long term effect of child abuse is, frequently, another generation of abuse. But as children age other symptoms develop first. Teen pregnancies and STDs are much higher among those who were abused when they were younger. Depression and PTSD-like symptoms are also a frequent problem as children retreat into themselves, attempting to protect their identity and avoid further pain. A number of more specific cognitive problems and emotional issues are associated with abuse at a young age, preventing further healthy development. Even those without acute symptoms tend to develop high-risk behaviors like overeating, substance abuse, and smoking.

Signs of Abuse

There are a number of signs that might indicate child abuse, signs that outsiders can notice and act on to prevent further abuse. These signs do not confirm abuse and may have other causes, but they are danger signs, and several indicators

at once increases the likelihood of abuse. Frequent indicators include:

  • Unexplained Bruises: These bruises are often on the arms or face and are not located in areas where children typically injure themselves playing.
  • Unexplained Burns or Other Injuries: From burns to cuts, broken bones and fractures, a series of unusual injuries can indicate a pattern of abuse
  • Neglect of Injuries: If a child needs medical attention and is not receiving it on a long-term basis, abuse through neglect could be the cause.
  • Self-Destructive Behaviors
  • Behavioral Extremes: Every child has tantrums, but victims of abuse often switch between emotional extremes without any middle ground, unable to control themselves easily.
  • Fear of Going Home: Getting to school early, staying late, and other ways of avoiding home can be warning signs.
  • Odd Excuses or Clothes: Strange reasons for injuries or wearing clothes just to cover up injuries are common indicators.
  • Signs of Extreme Hunger and Desperation: All kids get hungry, but if children steal food or scavenge for leftovers, there could be a problem.
  • Frequent Tardiness
  • Difficulty Walking or Sitting: This could be a sign of sexual injuries or diseases.
  • Unusual Concern for Siblings
  • Unusual Knowledge or Discussion of Sexual Practices
  • Rapid Weight Changes, Typically Lost Weight

Taking Action

Children are rarely capable of recognizing abuse until it is far too late. Abusers will invent excuses and rationales that are accepted by children without question. So recognition and prevention of further abuse falls to caring members of society. Take part in the
fight against abuse by adopting an active role in your own community.

Every state has local Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies that are open to reports of suspected child abuse. In the case of a problem, find your local agency office and give them whatever information you have. You can read about the Front Porch Project to learn more about how a community can become involved in the prevention of abuse. The Front Porch Project is designed to raise awareness, encourage community action, and provide information on prevention strategies. You can find further information using these resources:

National Children’s Alliance


HelpGuide: Child Abuse and Neglect