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Child Abuse Definition

Child Abuse can be defined as a non-accidental injury or pattern of injuries to a child. Child abuse includes non-accidental:

  • Physical Abuse – Examples of physical abuse include, but are not limited to: beating, burns, harmful restraint, use of a weapon or instrument, or actions that result in or could result in serious physical injury.
  • Sexual Abuse – Sexual abuse is any sexual behavior imposed on a child. This involves a range of activities, including fondling the genital area, masturbation, oral sex, or vaginal or anal penetration by a finger, penis or other object. It includes exhibitionism, child pornography, and suggestive behaviors or comments.
  • Emotional Abuse – Emotional abuse is expressing attitudes or behaviors toward a child that create serious emotional or psychological damage (i.e. verbal assault or emotional cruelty; inadequate nurturance; or extreme discipline).
  • Neglect -Child neglect can be defined as any serious disregard for a child’s supervision, care, or discipline (i.e. abandonment; health hazards in the home; ignoring child’s needs; knowingly permitting truancy; or exposure to domestic violence in the home).


Nearly 700,000 children are abused in the U.S. annually. An estimated 683,00 children (unique incidents) were victims of abuse and neglect in 2015, the most recent year for which there is national data.

CPS protects more than 300 million children. Approximately 3.4 million children received an investigation or alternative response from child protective services agencies. 2.3 million children received prevention services.

The youngest children were most vulnerable to maltreatment. Children in the first year of their life had the highest rate of victimization of 24.2 per 1,000 children in the national population of the same age.

Neglect is the most common form of maltreatment. Of the children who experienced maltreatment or abuse, three-quarters suffered neglect; 17.2% suffered physical abuse; and 8.4% suffered sexual abuse. (Some children were polyvictimized–they suffered more than one form of maltreatment.)

About four out of five abusers are the victims’ parents. A parent of the child victim was the perpetrator in 78.1% of substantiated cases of child maltreatment.

1 All national child abuse statistics cited from U.S. Administration for Children & Families, Child Maltreatment 2015.

2 National Children’s Alliance 2015 national statistics collected from Children’s Advocacy Center members and available on the NCA website:

Signs of child abuse:

  • Multiple injuries in different stages of healing (i.e. fractures or broken bones)
  • Suspicious bruising or burn patterns
  • Head injury to a child who is less than a year old
  • Child is fearful, withdrawn, or avoidant
  • Sexual behaviors that are not age-appropriate
  • Inappropriate or excessive discipline.

Signs of child neglect:

  • Abandonment by parent or caretaker
  • Unattended medical needs
  • Consistent lack of supervision
  • Consistent hunger, inappropriate dress, poor hygiene, lice, distended stomach
  • Poor social skills
  • Indiscriminate with affection
  • Pale, listless, begs or steals food, frequently absent from school
  • Falls asleep in class, regularly displays fatigue
  • Self-destructive behavior

Child Exposure to Domestic Violence

  • Children exposed to domestic violence are psychologically abused by living in that situation;
  • The children are often physically and sexually abused themselves, indicating a pattern of co-occurring abuse;
  • Exposure to a parent being verbally or physically assaulted is physiologically arousing, emotionally distressing, and often trauma-inducing to children;
  • The children may also experience other types of psychological maltreatment such as rejection, isolation, lack of emotional responsiveness from the caregiver, and neglect.

When to report child abuse, neglect or exposure to Domestic Violence

  • All citizens of NC are required by law to make a report of child maltreatment when suspected.
  • You do not have to know it occurred, but have a reasonable suspicion that maltreatment occurred.
  • The report is made to the county Department of Social Services office in which the child resides.


NC Resources

Children’s Advocacy Centers of North Carolina

Child advocacy centers provide a child-friendly, safe and neutral location in which law enforcement and Child Protective Services investigators may conduct and observe forensic interviews with children who are alleged victims of crimes, and where the child and non-offending family members receive support, crisis intervention and referrals for mental health and medical treatment. The Child advocacy center model’s main objective is to reduce trauma to child victims by bringing all disciplines together and sharing information more efficiently to minimize duplication.

North Carolina Child Treatment Program

NC CTP provides Evidence-Based Practice training and coaching for practitioners, provides a public roster of clinicians who provide evidence-based therapies to children who have experienced trauma, and developed a Performance and Outcomes Platform that tracks the efficiency and effectiveness of evidence-based treatment models used to treat children and families.

Child Medical Evaluation Program

The CMEP staff has developed a statewide network of local providers who perform medical and psychological assessments of children referred by DSS agencies to help determine the presence or extent of abuse and neglect. Established in 1976, the Child Medical Evaluation Program (CMEP) is a cooperative effort of the UNC School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, the N.C. State Division of Social Services, the N.C. Legislature, local Departments of Social Services, and local medical and mental health providers.

Department of Health and Human Services

North Carolina has 100 counties. Each county has a local Social Services Agency. Just select the county that you would like to view and you will be provided with phone numbers, physical addresses, and mailing addresses. When possible we also included email addresses and agency web site addresses.

National Resources

National Children’s Alliance

National Children’s Alliance (NCA) is the national association and accrediting body for Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs). Formed in 1988, NCA has been providing support, technical assistance, and quality assurance for CACs, while serving as a voice for abused children for more than 25 years.

Prevent Child Abuse

Prevent Child Abuse America® is the national champion of great childhoods for all children. Founded in 1972 in Chicago, Prevent Child Abuse America works to promote the healthy development of children and prevent child abuse before it can occur in order to help children to grow up and contribute in their communities. Our 50 state Chapter Network works every day to promote the kind of strategies and activities that make a difference locally as well as nationally.