What is child abuse?

Child abuse is any act or failure to act that endangers a child’s physical or emotional health and development. Child abuse often takes place within the home or involves a person the child knows quite well, such as a relative, babysitter, friend or acquaintance.

There are four recognized types of child abuse


Failure to provide for a child’s basic needs (physical, educational, and / or emotional)


Injury as a result of hitting, kicking, shaking, burning, or otherwise harming a child


Indecent exposure, fondling, rape, or commercial exploitation through prostitution or the production of pornographic material


Any pattern of behavior that impairs a child’s emotional development or sense of self-worth, including constant criticism, threats, and rejection

Risk Factors

Although the presence of certain risk factors can increase the likelihood of child abuse, their existence does not automatically lead to abuse.  Rather, recent research suggests that child abuse arises from the interaction of risk factors which compounds stress and parenting challenges within families.

Risk Factors for Children

  • Younger than 4-years-old (particularly for fatal incidents)
  • Special physical, cognitive, or emotional needs

Risk Factors for Parents / Caregivers

  • Lack of understanding about children’s needs, child development, and parenting skills
  • History of abuse in the family
  • Substance abuse or mental health issues
  • Low levels of education
  • Large number of dependent children
  • Financial challenges or difficulties
  • Thoughts and emotions supporting abusive behaviors

Risk Factors for Families

  • Social isolation
  • Family disorganization, dissolution, and violence (including intimate partner violence)
  • Parenting stress, including those associated with young, transient, or unsupported caregivers
  • Poor parent-child relationships and negative interactions

Risk Factors for Communities

  • Social and socioeconomic inequality
  • High poverty
  • High residential instability / lack of adequate housing
  • Poor social connections
  • Community violence
  • High unemployment rates
  • High density of alcohol outlets

Protective Factors

Research is proving that there are five commonalities that healthy families share. These five protective factors can be supported and strengthened within vulnerable families to combat risk factors and prevent incidences of child abuse.

Social & Emotional Competence of Children

Family and child interactions that help children develop the ability to communicate clearly, recognize and regulate their emotions, and establish and maintain relationships

Knowledge of Child Development

Understanding parenting strategies that support physical, cognitive, language, social, and emotional development

Parental Resilience

Managing stress and functioning well when faced with challenges, adversity, and trauma

Social Connections

Positive relationships that provide emotional, informational, and spiritual support

Concrete Support in Times of Need

Access to concrete support and services that address a family’s needs