Child abuse and child neglect both threaten the health, safety, and development of a child, and both can result in a child welfare case. It is important to understand the differences between child abuse and child neglect. State agencies need to know specifically how the child was mistreated to be able to put in place the right protections following an investigation. Child abuse and child neglect are both detrimental to a child but are caused by different actions and behaviors.
Child abuse is defined as a parent or caregiver harming a child or putting a child at risk of harm. Abuse can be physical, emotional, or sexual in nature. Any of these types of abuse cause psychological harm to a child. Examples of abuse include inflicting physical injury on a child, involving a child in a sexual act, or emotionally abusing a child. Abuse can happen in one incident or be the result of a pattern of ongoing acts and behaviors from the caregiver. Signs of child abuse can include bruises and other injuries, a child’s inappropriate knowledge about sexual behavior, or withdrawal from social interaction.
Child neglect, while equally harmful to a child, differs from child abuse in that it is typically caused by a lack of action on the part of the caregiver. Neglect is the failure of a parent or caregiver to provide proper care for a child. Proper care includes providing adequate shelter, clothing, food, medical care, supervision, and education. Neglect is often a result of ongoing mistreatment but can also occur from one unattended instance. Signs of neglect include poor hygiene, malnutrition, unattended to medical problems, or fatigue.
Understanding the differences between the two is important to be able to properly investigate a case and effectively protect a child from the mistreatment. Consult with an experienced child welfare attorney if you have questions about child abuse or child neglect. These are serious concerns for any parent or caretaker, and it is important to understand your rights with regard to the safety of your child. An attorney can advise you of those rights and help you take the right steps to ensure your child is in safe hands.