Fast Facts: Preventing Child Abuse & Neglect
Child abuse and neglect are serious public health problems and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). They can have long-term impacts on health, opportunity, and wellbeing. This issue includes all types of abuse and neglect of a child under the age of 18 by a parent, caregiver, or another person in a custodial role (such as a religious leader, a coach, a teacher) that results in harm, the potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child. There are four common types of abuse and neglect:
- Physical abuse is the intentional use of physical force that can result in physical injury. Examples include hitting, kicking, shaking, burning, or other shows of force against a child.
- Sexual abuse involves pressuring or forcing a child to engage in sexual acts. It includes behaviors such as fondling, penetration, and exposing a child to other sexual activities. Please see CDC’s Preventing Child Sexual Abuse webpage for more information.
- Emotional abuse refers to behaviors that harm a child’s self-worth or emotional well-being. Examples include name-calling, shaming, rejecting, withholding love, and threatening.
- Neglect is the failure to meet a child’s basic physical and emotional needs. These needs include housing, food, clothing, education, access to medical care, and having feelings validated and appropriately responded to.
For more information about preventing child abuse and neglect definitions please see Child Maltreatment Surveillance: Uniform Definitions for Public Health and Recommended Data Elements [4.12 MB, 148 Pages, 508].
Child abuse and neglect are common. At least 1 in 7 children have experienced child abuse or neglect in the past year in the United States. This is likely an underestimate because many cases are unreported. In 2020, 1,750 children died of abuse and neglect in the United States.
Children living in poverty experience more abuse and neglect. Experiencing poverty can place a lot of stress on families, which may increase the risk for child abuse and neglect. Rates of child abuse and neglect are 5 times higher for children in families with low socioeconomic status.
Child maltreatment is costly. In the United States, the total lifetime economic burden associated with child abuse and neglect was about $592 billion in 2018. This economic burden rivals the cost of other high-profile public health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Children who are abused and neglected may suffer immediate physical injuries such as cuts, bruises, or broken bones. They may also have emotional and psychological problems, such as anxiety or posttraumatic stress.
Over the long term, children who are abused or neglected are also at increased risk for experiencing future violence victimization and perpetration, substance abuse, sexually transmitted infections, delayed brain development, lower educational attainment, and limited employment opportunities.
Chronic abuse may result in toxic stress, which can change brain development and increase the risk for problems like posttraumatic stress disorder and learning, attention, and memory difficulties.
Child abuse and neglect are preventable. Certain factors may increase or decrease the risk of perpetrating or experiencing child abuse and neglect. To prevent child abuse and neglect violence, we must understand and address the factors that put people at risk for or protect them from violence. Everyone benefits when children have safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. CDC developed Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Resource for Action [4 MB, 50 Pages] to help communities use the best available evidence to prevent child abuse and neglect. This resource is available in English and Spanish [21MB, 52 Pages, 508] and can impact individual behaviors and relationships, family, community, and societal factors that influence risk and protective factors for child abuse and neglect.
Different types of violence are connected and often share root causes. Child abuse and neglect are linked to other forms of violence through shared risk and protective factors. Addressing and preventing one form of violence may have an impact on preventing other forms of violence.
See Child Abuse and Neglect Resources for publications, data sources, and prevention resources for preventing child abuse and neglect.
- Fortson, B. L., Klevens, J., Merrick, M. T., Gilbert, L. K., & Alexander, S. P. (2016). Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Resource for Action: A Compilation of the Best Available Evidence. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Note: The title of this document was changed in July 2023 to align with other Prevention Resources being developed by CDC’s Injury Center. The document was previously cited as “Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect: A Technical Package for Policy, Norm, and Programmatic Activities”.
- 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.
- Finkelhor D, Turner HA, Shattuck A, Hamby SL. Prevalence of Childhood Exposure to Violence, Crime, and Abuse: Results from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence. JAMA Pediatr. 2015;169(8):746–754. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.0676
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2022). Child Maltreatment 2020. Available from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/researchdata technology/statistics-research/childmaltreatment.
- Klika JB, Rosenzweig J, Merrick M. Economic burden of known cases of child maltreatment from 2018 in each state. Child and adolescent social work journal. 2020 Jun;37(3):227-34.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.(2022). Health and Economic Costs of Chronic Diseases. Available from https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/costs/index.htm
- Shonkoff J, Garner A, & Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, Committee on Early Childhood, Adoption, and Dependent Care, and Section on Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. (2012). The lifelong effects of early childhood adversity and toxic stress. Pediatrics, 129(1), e232-e246.
- Preventing Multiple Forms of Violence: A Strategic Vision for Connecting the Dots. (2016). Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.