Alphabetic Guide to Child Care - Child abuse and neglect

Child Abuse and Neglect

Child abuse and neglect have been defined in various ways.

In 1962, Dr. C. Henry Kempe, chief pediatrician at the University of Colorado Medical Center, coined the term battered child syndrome . According to Dr. Kempe's definition, the victim of battering is “any child who [has] received nonaccidental injury or injuries as a result of acts or omissions on the part of his parents or guardians.” Under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (Public Law 93-247), passed by Congress in 1974 and amended in 1978 and 1996, child abuse and neglect are defined as the physical or mental injury, sexual abuse or exploitation, negligent treatment, or maltreatment of a child under the age of 18 by a person who is responsible for the child's welfare under circumstances which indicate that the child's health or welfare is harmed or threatened thereby.

Abuse and neglect clearly take many forms. Physical abuse may involve punching, scalding, suffocating, headcracking, and stomping. Sexual abuse can mean intercourse, incest, rape, sodomy, or impairing of a minor's morals (see SEXUAL ABUSE ). Physical neglect occurs when parents or parent surrogates fail to provide the essentials of a normal life. These include food, clothing, shelter, care, and supervision. Under emotional abuse or neglect authorities include parental failure to provide love and proper direction, parental rejection, and deprivation of mothering.


Figures on the incidence of child abuse and neglect are difficult to confirm. Many such cases are never reported. At least one agency, the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, a federal agency, has concluded that just under one million children are maltreated each year. Another estimate indicates that some 3,000 children die annually in New York City alone as a result of physical abuse.

Most of the abuse victims are three years old or younger. Some authorities believe that the cases of neglect are far more numerous than those of actual abuse.


Approaches to control of the problem of child abuse and neglect have been both legislative and social. Laws passed by all 50 states require physicians and other professionals to report suspected cases of child abuse. In increasing numbers the states also require reports from nurses, teachers, counselors, social workers, clergymen, law enforcement officers, attorneys, and coroners. Some states provide for penalties, including fines up to $1,000 or prison sentences of as much as one year, for persons mandated to report but failing to do so.

Control measures have focused in addition on the rehabilitation of abusive parents and protection of abused children. The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, established in 1974 as part of the Children's Bureau of the federal Administration for Children and Families, receives funding that makes possible protective services for the short-term care of endangered children outside the home. The Center also provides counseling for parents, foster-care payments, and other services.

On the principle that the abusive parent must be treated if child abuse and neglect are to be controlled, various organizations have instituted parent-oriented programs. Parents Anonymous sponsors therapy sessions in which abusive parents can meet to help themselves and each other. “Helplines” operating in many communities offer aid and counseling to parents who have abused a child but are afraid to contact a social service or other agency. A number of other agencies and groups provide emergency, counseling, outreach, and related services to parents or parent surrogates. Some helplines have workers available to visit homes in life-threatening situations.

Other groups and agencies take a multidisciplinary approach. Alliance, a division of Catholic Charities, brings together existing community agencies that work together in teams to treat child abuse and neglect cases. Hospital-based treatment programs may include a physician, nurse, social worker, and consulting psychiatrist. Lay therapists may visit homes under other programs, and “foster grandparents” over 65 years of age may be recruited to care for battered children who have been hospitalized.

Sources of Help

Persons seeking help or advice on abused and neglected children can look in their communities’ yellow pages under the heading “Social Services Organizations.” A number of organizations that offer assistance are listed in the SEXUAL ABUSE section. Others include:

  1. • Parents Anonymous, 1733 South Sepulveda, Ste. 270, Los Angeles, CA 91711-3475; (909) 621-6184.
  2. • American Humane Association Childrens Division (AHA), 63 Inverness Drive E, Engelwood, CO 80112-5117; (303) 792-9900.
  3. • Parents without Partners, 401 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 6011-4267; (312) 644-6610.
  4. • Parents United, 615 15th Street, Modesto, CA 95354-2510; (209) 572-3446.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: