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Child Maltreatment: Definitions

Any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a parent or other caregiver (e.g., clergy, coach, teacher) that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child.

Acts of Commission (Child Abuse)

Words or overt actions that cause harm, potential harm, or threat of harm to a child. Acts of commission are deliberate and intentional; however, harm to a child may or may not be the intended consequence. Intentionality only applies to the caregivers' acts-not the consequences of those acts. For example, a caregiver may intend to hit a child as punishment (i.e., hitting the child is not accidental or unintentional) but not intend to cause the child to have a concussion. The following types of maltreatment involve acts of commission:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Psychological abuse

Acts of Omission (Child Neglect)

The failure to provide for a child's basic physical, emotional, or educational needs or to protect a child from harm or potential harm. Like acts of commission, harm to a child may or may not be the intended consequence. The following types of maltreatment involve acts of omission:

  • Failure to provide
    • Physical neglect
    • Emotional neglect
    • Medical/dental neglect
    • Educational neglect
  • Failure to supervise
    • Inadequate supervision
    • Exposure to violent environments

For more detailed information, see the following reference document:

Leeb RT, Paulozzi L, Melanson C, Simon T, Arias I. Child Maltreatment Surveillance: Uniform Definitions for Public Health and Recommended Data Elements, Version 1.0. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control; 2008.
Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pub/CMP-Surveillance.html

Why is a Consistent Definition Important?

A consistent definition is needed to monitor the incidence of child maltreatment and examine trends over time. In addition, it helps determine the magnitude of child maltreatment and compare the problem across jurisdictions.


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