Child abuse and neglect are serious public health problems. They have long-term impacts on health, opportunity, and wellbeing. Child abuse is defined as any abuse or 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. 

Physical abuse is the intentional use of physical force that can result in a 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. Most cases of sexual abuse involve a close trusted adult or family member who abuses the child’s trust. Often, the child is pressured or talked into the activity, offered gifts, or asked to keep secrets, not physically forced into it.

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. 

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. Children living in poverty experience more abuse and neglect.