Child Abuse and Maltreatment

Police and Childhood Trauma

Learn about Childhood Trauma and Its Effects: Implications for Police, a new paper by Richard G. Dudley, Jr., M.D. from the Harvard Executive Session on Policing and Public Safety

Definitions for child abuse and maltreatment vary across jurisdictions. In general, child maltreatment includes physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, in addition to neglect (where neglect refers to the failure of a parent to provide for a child's development when in a financial position to do so).[1] Federal law defines child abuse and neglect as any recent act, or failure to act, on the part of a parent or caretaker that results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or an act or failure to act that presents an imminent risk of serious harm to a child.

For more information, see the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, as amended by the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003.

In addition to defining acts or omissions that cause harm or threat of harm to a child, several statutes specifically describe the persons who are reportable to child protective services under civil child abuse reporting laws.[2]

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) considers child abuse and maltreatment a form of family violence. As such, child abuse falls under NIJ's Violence Against Women and Family Violence Research and Evaluation Program. Other types of family violence that are included in NIJ's portfolio include elder abuse and intimate partner violence.

The World Health Organization and International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect released a report, Preventing Child Maltreatment, about child abuse and prevention efforts worldwide including case studies, epidemiology and assessment tools.[3]


[1]World Report on Violence and Health.Child Abuse and Neglect by Parents and Other Caregivers (chapter 3). Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, 2002.

[2] Child Welfare Information Gateway. Understanding the Effects of Maltreatment on Early Brain Development. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families' Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2001. 

[3] World Health Organization and International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. Preventing Child Maltreatment: A Guide to Taking Action and Generating Evidence (pdf, 100 pages). Geneva, Switzerland: WHO Press, 2006.

Date Modified: July 1, 2011