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Child Abuse Prevention

Group of children sitting on floorApril is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

The Division of Violence Prevention at CDC works to better understand the problem of child abuse and neglect and to prevent it before it begins.

Essentials for Childhood: Assuring safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for all children is CDC’s framework for preventing child abuse and neglect. 

Facts about Child Abuse and Neglect

Child abuse and neglect are significant public health problems in the United States.

  • More than 1,670 children died in the United States in 2015 from abuse and neglect.
  • According to child protective service agencies, about 683,000 children were victims of child abuse or neglect in 2015.
  • One in 4 children have experienced abuse or neglect at some point in their lives, and 1 in 7 children experienced abuse in the last year, according to self-reports from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV). 
  • The financial costs for victims and society are substantial. A CDC study showed the total lifetime cost associated with just 1 year of confirmed cases of child abuse or neglect is $124 billion.
Teenage boy

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Learn more about preventing child abuse and neglect in your community.

Abused children often suffer physical injuries including cuts, bruises, burns, and broken bones. However, physical injury is not the only negative impact of abuse and neglect—it can also affect lifelong health including:

  • Mental health.
  • Social development.
  • Risk-taking behavior (e.g., smoking, high-risk sexual behaviors, and drug abuse).
  • Life opportunities (e.g., educational attainment, employment, and income).

Child abuse and neglect includes all types of abuse or neglect of a child under the age of 18 by a parent, caregiver, or another person in a custodial role that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child. There are four common types of abuse and neglect.

  1. Physical abuse is the use of physical force, such as hitting, kicking, shaking, burning, or other shows of force against a child.
  2. Sexual abuse involves inducing or coercing a child to engage in sexual acts. It includes behaviors such as fondling, penetration, and exposing a child to other sexual activities.
  3. Emotional abuse refers to behaviors that harm a child’s self-worth or emotional well-being. Examples include name calling, shaming, rejection, withholding love, and threatening.
  4. Neglect is the failure to meet a child’s basic physical and emotional needs. These needs include housing, food, clothing, education, and access to medical care.

Child abuse and neglect and other adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) cause toxic stress that can disrupt early brain development and harm the nervous and immune systems. Exposure to childhood adversity can increase a person’s risk for future violence, unhealthy relationship behaviors, and poor health and wellness. This impact can be long-lasting and may continue across future generations.

Parents holding baby

Safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments are essential to prevent child abuse and neglect.

Child Abuse and Neglect Are Preventable

CDC works to stop child abuse and neglect before they occur. In doing this, CDC promotes the development of safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments between children and their parents or caregivers. Children’s experiences are defined through their environments (such as homes, schools, and neighborhoods) and their relationships with parents, teachers, and other caregivers. Healthy relationships and environments act as a buffer against adverse experiences and are necessary to ensure the long-term physical and emotional well-being of children.

Use CDC’s Technical Package to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect

CDC has developed a technical package, Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect: A Technical Package for Policy, Norm, and Programmatic Activities [3.9 MB], to help states and communities prevent child abuse and neglect.  A technical package is a collection of strategies that represent the best available evidence to prevent or reduce public health problems like violence. The package supports CDC’s Essentials for Childhood framework and highlights five strategies to prevent child abuse and neglect:

  1. Strengthen economic supports for families.
  2. Change social norms to support parents and positive parenting.
  3. Provide quality care and education early in life.
  4. Enhance parenting skills to promote healthy child development.
  5. Intervene to lessen harms and prevent future risk.

The technical package is a resource to guide and inform prevention decision making in communities and states so that every child has safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments.

Essentials for Parenting

In 2014, CDC released the Essentials for Parenting Toddlers and Preschoolers online resource. This free resource, now available in Spanish, provides a unique opportunity for parents to receive evidence-based parenting information from a trustworthy source, CDC.