Frequently Asked Questions

What is child abuse and neglect?

While every state defines child abuse somewhat differently, the categories of child abuse usually include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and at times substance abuse. In Texas, child abuse and neglect are defined in Chapter 261 of the Texas Family Code and include:

Abuse – All including acts or omissions by a person to a child, such as:

  • Mental or emotional injury to a child
  • Physical injury
  • Sexual abuse (including pornography, trafficking and prostitution)
  • Substance abuse

Neglect – Meaning either harm occurred or the risk of harm was present in these categories:

  • Physical harm, mental harm, sexual harm
  • Medical neglect
  • Abandonment
  • Some states also include educational neglect as a category of neglect
What are the causes?

Child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions, and at all levels of education, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Child Welfare Information Gateway reported in 2013 in Long-Term Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect.

While no specific causes have been definitively identified that lead a parent or other caregiver to abuse or neglect a child, a number of risk factors are commonly (but not always) associated with maltreatment. These factors are generally categorized into the four domains of:

  • Parent or caregiver factors
  • Family factors
  • Child factors
  • Environmental factors

A recognition and understanding of these factors can lead to better identification of child maltreatment, better interventions, and more effective means of preventing child abuse and neglect.

What are some examples of risk factors for child maltreatment?

Examples of factors that are thought by some to indicate risk for the abuse or neglect of children include:

Parent or caregiver factors

  • Behavioral or emotional difficulties
  • History of maltreatment (although by no means do all who have been maltreated go on to abuse others)
  • Substance abuse
  • Attitudes and knowledge
  • Age

Family factors

  • Domestic violence
  • Stress, including social or financial stress

Child factors

Children are not responsible for being victims of child abuse/neglect! Certain factors, however, may make them more vulnerable to being maltreated, such as:

  • Age: infants cannot fend for themselves; shaken baby syndrome is an abuse of infants
  • Children with disabilities are abused at a higher rate than children without disabilities, whether due to their vulnerability or the stress of the caregiver in caring for them

Environmental Factors

  • Stressors such as poverty and unemployment
  • Social isolation
  • Violent neighborhoods
How large is the problem?

Nationally: For fiscal year (FY) 2016, U.S. States reported that 676,000 children were victims of child abuse or neglect (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018).

  • The national estimate of children who received a child protective services investigation response or alternative response increased 9.5% from 2012 (3,172,000) to 2016 (3,472,000).
  • The number and rate of victims have fluctuated during the past 5 years. Comparing the national rounded number of victims from 202 (656,000) to 2016 (676,000) shows an increase of 3%.
  • Three-quarters (74.8%) of victims were neglected, 18.2% were physically abused, and 8.5% were sexually abused.
  • For 2016, a national estimated 1,750 children died of abuse and neglect at a rate of 2.36 per 100,000 children in the national population.

In Texas: With one in ten of the nation’s confirmed victims of child abuse, Texas faces a tremendous problem that has a physical and emotional cost to children, a financial cost to the state and social costs to our communities. Here are some of Texas’ 2017 statistics (Texas DFPS Databook FY2017):

  • 63,657 victims of child abuse or neglect were confirmed.
  • 60% of child abuse or neglect were 6 years old or younger.
  • 172 children died from child abuse or neglect.
  • 19,864 children were removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect.
  • A total of 50,293 children were in the child protection system.
What is the cost of child abuse?

The state’s burgeoning child population – 7 million, with an increase of 1.2 million in the past decade – and the rising cost to society has increased pressure to confront this problem. A study published in 2011 in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect estimated the annual national cost of child maltreatment to be $124 billion, including medical costs, increased spending for special education, the child welfare system and the criminal justice system, and diminished earning power. Texas share, based on its share of the population of children, would be more than $12 billion. A more recent report by an economic consulting firm in Texas estimated the cost to Texas to be as high as $454 billion over the lifetime of the abused children, when including lost gross product, lost personal income, lost retail sales, and lost employment hours (Perryman Group 2014).

This is a large problem, both in Texas and nationally, and has far reaching effects.

What are the effects of child abuse and neglect?

The Child Information Gateway, in its publication, “Long-Term Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect,” states that child abuse and neglect can have lifelong implications for victims, including on their well-being. Children who are maltreated often are at risk of experiencing cognitive delays and emotional difficulties, among other issues. Childhood trauma also negatively affects brain development, the nervous system and immune system development, putting children who have been maltreated at a higher risk for health problems as adults.

Effects that have been more commonly associated with individuals who have experienced abuse and neglect include:

  • Health and physical issues such as abusive head trauma, impaired brain development and poor physical health.
  • Psychological consequences such cognitive delays, poor mental and emotional health, and social difficulties.
  • Behavioral consequences such as difficulties during adolescence and adulthood with sexual risk taking, substance abuse, delinquency, truancy, early pregnancy, adult criminality, and abusive behavior.

In fact, the Adverse Childhood Experiences study indicates that child maltreatment leads to not only social, emotional and cognitive impairment, but also the adoption of health-risking behaviors, increases in disease, disability and social problems, and even early death.

How can child maltreatment be prevented or remediated?

According to HHS Child Welfare Information Gateway, there are many protective factors that may lead to a lower incidence of child abuse or neglect. These include:

Initiatives or programs that develop some of these protective factors include the Healthy Families initiative, Triple P (Positive Parenting Program), Nurse-Family Partnership, Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, home visiting programs, and Head Start. Any program that develops these protective factors may assist in preventing child maltreatment.

Another important means of remediating child maltreatment is for adults who interact with children to use a trauma-informed practice. While the priority is to prevent child abuse and neglect from occurring, it is equally important to respond appropriately to children and adults who have experienced abuse and neglect. Over the past 30 years, researchers and practitioners have developed a better understanding of the effects of trauma. More has been done in the way of developing supports to address these effects, build resiliency, and, hopefully, prevent further trauma. Trauma-informed practice refers to the services and programs specifically designed to address and respond to the impact of traumatic stress. The importance of this approach has become especially evident in the child welfare system, as a majority of children and families involved with child welfare have experienced some form of past trauma. All who interact with children and families in the child welfare system would benefit from having training in trauma informed care.

Some of the evidence-based and promising practices that Upbring uses include:

  • Aggression Replacement Training (ART)
  • Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF CBT)
  • Trauma Systems Therapy (TST)
  • Satori Alternatives to Managing Aggression (SAMA)
  • Therapeutic Crisis Intervention (TCI)

Bruce D Perry, M.D., Ph.D. gives these specific tips for parents, teachers and other caregivers in “Supporting Maltreated Children: Countering the Effects of Neglect and Abuse:”

  • Nurture children
  • Try to understand the behaviors before punishing a child
  • Interact with children at their emotional age
  • Be consistent, predictable and repetitive
  • Model and teach appropriate social behaviors
  • Listen and talk with your children
  • Take care of yourself
  • Investigate other resources

Web Resources

The links provided in the categories above do not represent an exhaustive list nor an endorsement by Upbring.

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