Preventing Child Abuse & Neglect

What are child abuse and neglect?
What are child abuse and neglect?

Child abuse and neglect are serious public health problems and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that can have long-term impact on health and wellbeing. This issue includes all types of abuse and neglect against 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, 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, rejection, 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, and access to medical care.

Child abuse and neglect are connected to other forms of violence through shared risk and protective factors. This means preventing child abuse and neglect can also prevent other forms of violence. Using a public health approach to address shared risk and protective factors, we can prevent child abuse and neglect from ever occurring. For more information about preventing child abuse & neglect definitions please see Child Maltreatment Surveillance: Uniform Definitions for Public Health and Recommended Data Elements pdf icon[4.12 MB, 148 Pages, 508].

How big is the problem?

Child abuse and neglect are common. At least 1 in 7 children have experienced child abuse and/or neglect in the past year, and this is likely an underestimate. In 2018, nearly 1,770 children died of abuse and neglect in the United States.

Children living in poverty experience more abuse and neglect. Rates of child abuse and neglect are 5 times higher for children in families with low socio-economic status compared to children in families with higher socio-economic status.

Child maltreatment is costly. In the United States, the total lifetime economic burden associated with child abuse and neglect was approximately $428 billion in 2015. This economic burden rivals the cost of other high profile public health problems, such as stroke and type 2 diabetes.

About 1 in 7 children experienced CAN and Estimated cost of CAN

See Child Abuse and Neglect Resources for more resources about child abuse and neglect. 

What are the consequences?

Children who are abused and neglected may suffer immediate physical injuries such as cuts, bruises, or broken bones, as well as emotional and psychological problems, such as impaired social-emotional skills or anxiety.

Child abuse and neglect and other ACEs can also have a tremendous impact on lifelong health and wellbeing if left untreated. For example, exposure to violence in childhood increases the risks of injury, 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 post-traumatic stress disorder and learning, attention, and memory difficulties.

See Child Abuse and Neglect Resources for data sources about the consequences of child abuse and neglect. 

How can we prevent child abuse and neglect?

Child abuse and neglect are preventable. Everyone benefits when children have safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. CDC has developed a technical package, Preventing Child Abuse & Neglect: A Technical Package for Policy, Norm, and Programmatic Activities pdf icon[4 MB, 52 Pages, 508] to help communities take advantage of the best available evidence to prevent child abuse and neglect. Also available in Spanish pdf icon[21MB, 52 Pages, 508].

The technical package includes strategies and approaches proven to impact individual behaviors, as well as family, community, and societal factors, that influence risk and protective factors for child abuse and neglect. They are intended to work in combination in a multi-level, multisector effort to prevent violence.

How can we prevent child abuse and neglect?


See Child Abuse and Neglect Resources for publications about strategies to prevent child abuse and neglect. 

  1. Fortson B, Klevens J, Merrick M, Gilbert L, Alexander S. (2016). Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect: A Technical Package for Policy, Norm, and Programmatic Activities. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. 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.
  3. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2020). Child Maltreatment 2018. Available from technology/statistics-research/childmaltreatment.
  4. Peterson C, Florence C, Klevens J. The economic burden of child maltreatment in the United States, 2015. Child abuse & neglect. 2018 Dec 1;86:178-83.
Page last reviewed: April 7, 2020