Risk and Protective Factors

Risk factors are characteristics that may increase the likelihood of experiencing or perpetrating child abuse and neglect, but they may or may not be direct causes. A combination of individual, relational, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of child abuse and neglect. Although children are not responsible for the harm inflicted upon them, certain factors have been found to increase their risk of being abused and or neglected.

Watch Moving Forward to learn more about how increasing what protects people from violence and reducing what puts people at risk for it benefits everyone.

Risk Factors for Victimization

Individual Risk Factors

  • Children younger than 4 years of age
  • Children with special needs that may increase caregiver burden (e.g., disabilities, mental health issues, and chronic physical illnesses)

Risk Factors for Perpetration

Individual Risk Factors

  • Caregivers with drug or alcohol issues
  • Caregivers with mental health issues, including depression
  • Caregivers who don’t understand children’s needs or development
  • Caregivers who were abused or neglected as children
  • Caregivers who are young or single parents or parents with many children
  • Caregivers with low education or income
  • Caregivers experiencing high levels of parenting stress or economic stress
  • Caregivers who use spanking and other forms of corporal punishment for discipline
  • Caregivers in the home who are not a biological parent
  • Caregivers with attitudes accepting of or justifying violence or aggression

Family Risk Factors

  • Families that have household members in jail or prison
  • Families that are isolated from and not connected to other people (extended family, friends, neighbors)
  • Families experiencing other types of violence, including relationship violence
  • Families with high conflict and negative communication styles

Community Risk Factors

  • Communities with high rates of violence and crime
  • Communities with high rates of poverty and limited educational and economic opportunities
  • Communities with high unemployment rates
  • Communities with easy access to drugs and alcohol
  • Communities where neighbors don’t know or look out for each other and there is low community involvement among residents
  • Communities with few community activities for young people
  • Communities with unstable housing and where residents move frequently
  • Communities where families frequently experience food insecurity

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Protective Factors for Child Abuse and Neglect

Protective factors may lessen the likelihood of children being abused or neglected. Identifying and understanding protective factors are equally as important as researching risk factors.

Individual Protective Factors

  • Caregivers who create safe, positive relationships with children
  • Caregivers who practice nurturing parenting skills and provide emotional support
  • Caregivers who can meet basic needs of food, shelter, education, and health services
  • Caregivers who have a college degree or higher and have steady employment

Family Protective Factors

  • Families with strong social support networks and stable, positive relationships with the people around them
  • Families where caregivers are present and interested in the child
  • Families where caregivers enforce household rules and engage in child monitoring
  • Families with caring adults outside the family who can serve as role models or mentors

Community Protective Factors

  • Communities with access to safe, stable housing
  • Communities where families have access to high-quality preschool
  • Communities where families have access to nurturing and safe childcare
  • Communities where families have access to safe, engaging after school programs and activities
  • Communities where families have access to medical care and mental health services
  • Communities where families have access to economic and financial help
  • Communities where adults have work opportunities with family-friendly policies


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

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Page last reviewed: April 6, 2022