Child Abuse and Neglect: Definitions
Child abuse and neglect is 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
Acts of commission are deliberate and intentional; however, harm to a child might not be the intended consequence. Intention only applies to caregiver acts—not the consequences of those acts. For example, a caregiver might 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)
Failure to provide needs or to protect from harm or potential harm
Acts of omission are 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 might not be the intended consequence. The following types of maltreatment involve acts of omission:
- Physical neglect
- Emotional neglect
- Medical and dental neglect
- Educational neglect
- Inadequate supervision
- Exposure to violent environments
See the following reference document for more detailed information:
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: Child Maltreatment Surveillance: Uniform Definitions for Public Health and Recommended Data Elements [PDF 4.12MB]
Why Is a Consistent Definition Important?
A consistent definition is needed to monitor the incidence of child abuse and neglect and to examine trends over time. In addition, a clear and consistent definition helps determine the magnitude of child abuse and neglect and allows comparison of the problem across jurisdictions.