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Child Abuse and Neglect

What is Child Abuse and Neglect?

Physical Abuse is when a child is hit, slapped, beaten, burned, or otherwise physically harmed.  Like other forms of abuse, physical abuse usually continues for a long time.

Sexual Abuse is when a child is engages in a sexual situation with an adult or an older child.  Sometimes this means direct sexual contact, such as intercourse, other genital contact or touching.  But it can also mean that the child is made to watch sexual acts, look at an adult's genitals, look at pornography or be part of the production of pornography.  Children many times are not forced into the sexual situation, but rather they are persuaded, bribed, tricked or coerced.

Emotional/Psychological Abuse is when a child is regularly threatened, yelled at, humiliated, ignored, blamed or otherwise emotionally mistreated.  For example, making fun of a child, calling a child names, and always finding fault are forms of emotional/psychological abuse.

Neglect is when a child's basic needs are not met.  These needs include nutritious food, adequate shelter, clothing, cleanliness, emotional support, love and affection, education, safety, and medical and dental care.


Unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones, or black eyes may signal the presence of child abuse or neglect. Also, the child:

  • Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance.
  • Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention.
  • Has learning problems that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes.
  • Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen.
  • Lacks adult supervision.
  • Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn.
  • Comes to school or other activities early, stays late, and does not want to go home.

The detection and treatment of child abuse and neglect is managed by the Divisions of Emergency Medicine  and Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.