Child Abuse Definitions

What is Child Abuse?

The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) defines child abuse and neglect as, at minimum:
          - Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or
          - An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.


Failure to provide for a child's basic needs.
          - Physical Neglect: Failure to provide necessary food or shelter, or lack of appropriate supervision.
          - Medical Neglect: Failure to provide necessary medical or mental health treatment.
          - Educational Neglect: Failure to educate a child or attend to special education needs.
          - Emotional Neglect: Inattention to a child’s emotional needs, failure to provide psychological care, or permitting the child to use alcohol or other drugs.

Physical Abuse:

Physical injury (ranging from minor bruises to severe fractures or death) as a result of punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, throwing, stabbing, choking, hitting (with a hand, stick, strap, or other object), burning, or otherwise harming a child. Such injury is considered abuse regardless of whether the caretaker intended to hurt the child.

Sexual Abuse:

Activities by a parent or caretaker such as fondling a child's genitals, penetration, incest, rape, sodomy, indecent exposure, and exploitation through prostitution or the production of pornographic materials.

Emotional Abuse:

A pattern of behavior that impairs a child's emotional development or sense of self-worth. This may include constant criticism, threats, or rejection, as well as withholding love, support, or guidance. Emotional abuse is often difficult to prove and, therefore, CPS may not be able to intervene without evidence of harm to the child. Emotional abuse is almost always present when other forms are identified.

Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway