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Understanding Child Maltreatment

Child maltreatment is a behavior, perpetrated against a child, that is outside the norms of conduct and carries a substantial risk of causing physical or emotional harm.

Child maltreatment includes all types of physical and/or emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and child labor or other exploitation that results in actual or potential harm to the health, survival, development, or dignity of the child, in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power. Exposure to intimate partner violence is also sometimes listed as a form of child maltreatment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines child maltreatment as any act or series of acts of commission (abuse) or omission (neglect) by a parent or other caregiver (e.g., coach, teacher) that result in harm, the potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child.

Child Maltreatment Statistics

In 2019, 4,378 million reports of suspected child maltreatment were made to Child Protective Services (CPS) in the US, involving 7.9 million children. Approximately 2.4 million of these reports were investigated in detail and around 678,000 maltreated children were identified. In general, both sexes are affected equally, although boys are the most frequently physically abused. Also, the younger the child, the higher the victimization rate of child maltreatment.

Approximately three-fifths of all reports of child maltreatment registered to Child Protective Services were made by professionals who have an obligation to report child maltreatment (for example, educators, social services personnel, legal professionals, medical or mental health personnel, health care providers, foster care, etc.)

What were the most common types of child maltreatment?

The difference in reported cases in the United States in 2015 and 2019:

Type of Abuse 2015 2019
Neglect 75.3% 74.9%
Physical Abuse 17.2% 17.5
Sexual Abuse 8.4% 9.3%


Data from the federal fiscal year (FFY) 2019 show that 84.5% of victims suffer a single type of abuse, while 15.5% are victims of two or more types of abuse. Data from fiscal year 2018 show that 91.7% of victims are abused by one or both parents. The abuser could have acted alone, with another person, or with up to two other people to abuse the child. 39.4% of the victims are abused by a mother who acts alone and 21.5% by a father who acts alone. 13.4% of the victims are abused by an aggressor who is neither their father nor their mother.

Understanding Child Maltreatment

Preventing child maltreatment before it starts is possible and requires a multi-sectoral approach. Effective prevention approaches include supporting parents, teaching them positive parenting skills, and enhancing laws to prohibit violent punishment. Ongoing care of children and families can reduce the risk of maltreatment reoccurring and can minimize its consequences.

Stop Child Abuse

There are many ways you can get involved and make a difference to prevent child abuse. Take action and choose what works best for you.