Abuse down, neglect up, and parents to blame


Although cases of child abuse are declining, incidences of child neglect may be rising. and most of the perpetrators in both cases are the children’s own parents.


Although cases of child abuse are declining, incidences of child neglect may be rising, and most of the perpetrators in both cases are the children’s own parents.

The findings come from a new report, New Directions in Child Abuse and Neglect Research, put together by experts convened by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine. The report updates a 1993 version called Understanding Child Abuse and Neglect.

According to the latest findings, about 6 million children are involved in reports to child protective services, and many more go unreported. Approximately 75% are cases of neglect; the other 25% are cases involving either physical (15%) or sexual (10%) abuse. Most involve children aged younger than 5 years, and 80% of the perpetrators are the children’s own parents, 87% of whom are the biological parents. More than half the perpetrators are female.

The committee defines child abuse and neglect as any act or failure to act on the part of a caregiver that results in physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; neglect; medical neglect; or neglect that results in imminent harm to a child. Neglect is defined as failing to provide food, clothing, supervision, protection, a safe/hygienic shelter, education, medical care, or affection/nurturing.

Risk factors include depression, early childbearing, substance abuse, antisocial personality disorder, being a single parent, living in a stressful environment, social isolation, poverty, and violence. Children aged 3 years and younger are at highest risk.

The consequences of abuse and neglect can include depression and anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, poor physical health, changes in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, changes in the body’s stress response system, attention difficulties and difficulties at work/school, poor peer relationships, aggression, and delinquency. The long-term consequences affect not only the victim, but also the victim’s family, future relationships, and society as a whole.

The latest report concludes that “a coordinated, national research infrastructure with high-level federal support” is required to address and develop 4 specific areas: a national strategic plan, a national surveillance system, a new generation of researchers, and changes in federal and state programs and response.

The US Department of Health and Human Services’ Child Welfare Information Gateway Web site offers downloadable fact sheets in both English and Spanish that define child abuse and neglect according to federal law and advise how to recognize the signs and symptoms of child maltreatment. 



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