Understanding the Effects of Child Abuse & Neglect

When working within the child welfare or family services field of social work, it is vital to understand the trauma that occurs from abuse and maltreatment, as well as resulting behaviors that stem from this horrific treatment.

In my time at university, and throughout my various internships, volunteer work, and professional experience, the effects of abuse and neglect on children has become all too clear. From these moments, as well as with the evidence of well-done research, I provide to you the consequences of harming a child’s life.

Before looking at these items, however, it is necessary to state what specifically is child abuse and maltreatment or neglect?

As defined federally by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, child abuse and maltreatment is:

“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” (CAPTA, 2010).

Because I reside in New York State, provided below is also the state’s more extensive definition of abuse and maltreatment.

Child Abuse: “An abused child is a child whose parent or other person legally responsible for his/her care inflicts upon the child serious physical injury, creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury, or commits an act of sex abuse against the child” (NYS Office of Children and Family Services).

  • Defined in Section 412 of the Social Services Law and at Section 1012 of the Family Court Act

Child Abuser: “A person who perpetrates any of these actions against a child in their care can be abusive, and so can a person who allows someone else to do these things to a child” (NYS Office of Children and Family Services).

Child Maltreatment: “Occurs when a parent or other person legally responsible for the care of a child harms a child, or places a child in imminent danger of harm by failing to exercise the minimum degree of care in providing the child with any of the following: food, clothing, shelter, education or medical care when financially able to do so. Can also result from abandonment of a child or from not providing adequate supervision for the child. A child may be maltreated if a parent engages in excessive use of drugs or alcohol such that it interferes with their ability to adequately supervise the child” (NYS Office of Children and Family Services).

  • Child Neglect is defined in Section 1012 of the Family Court Act.
  • Child Maltreatment is defined in Section 412 of the Social Services Law.

Now that we know WHAT child abuse and maltreatment is, we must look at what happens to a child after they have been abused and/or neglected.

The following consequences of child abuse include a continuing and generational cycle of abuse, risk for domestic violence, future alcohol and substance abuse, juvenile delinquency, future criminal behavior, mental and emotional problems, injuries and health issues, difficulty with learning and academics, the increased possibility of entering foster care, facing homelessness, teen pregnancy, entering into prostitution, and the increased chance of being unemployed with the reliance on public assistance programs (Prevent Child Abuse New York).

Generational Cycle & Becoming Abusers

The continuous cycle of abuse is similar to any other generational cycle. Historically, it has been observed that parents that conduct abuse on his or her own children have often been at the hands of abuse or neglect as a child them self. With this in mind, because a parent may abuse their child due to their own history, the child abused by this parent has an increased possibility in abusing their own children in the future as well (Prevent Child Abuse New York). In accordance to this, approximately 33% of children who have been subjected to abuse will be abusive towards his or her spouse later in life. If that is not enough, between 133 and 275 million children throughout the world are witnesses to intimate partner violence (International CAP). This domestic violence is further prevalent in child abuse victims’ lives in that about half of the parents who harmed their child were also victims of domestic violence themselves (Prevent Child Abuse New York). From this, we can gather that children who witness domestic violence have increased chances of being in a domestically violent relationship in the future, or will become an abuser to his or her children or partner.

Substance Abuse & Criminal Activity

The correlation between substance abuse and child maltreatment is astounding. Both of these topics cause the other in that children with substance-abusing parents are 3x more likely to face child abuse (Prevent Child Abuse New York). Additionally, 2/3 of individuals participating in programs for drug treatment, state that he or she was a victim of abuse in his or her childhood (Prevent Child Abuse New York). Subsequent to this dependency on drugs and alcohol, delinquency and criminal behavior increases in likelihood for abused children. Approximately, a child abuse victim’s chances of being arrested as an adolescent or teenager increases by 53%, while being arrested as an adult is increased by 38% (Prevent Child Abuse New York). As we can determine from these points, children who have faced abuse, and who have not had the means to heal, attempt to cope with the trauma through substance abuse and participation in crime.

Mental, Emotional, Physical & Cognitive Problems

More obviously, children who have been a part of abuse face mental, emotional, and physical issues as a direct result of the abhorrent mistreatment. Statistically, physical injuries that occur due to child abuse and maltreatment are difficult to track and gather data on. However, it is known that sufferers of childhood abuse will possess a sense of decreased value of one’s self, increased chances of depression and anxiety, suicidal thoughts and tendencies, and numerous other psychological disorders (Prevent Child Abuse New York). Worldwide, and correlated with child abuse, suicide among adolescents is the 3rd leading cause of death within this age group (International CAP). In accordance to physical, emotional, and mental difficulties and issues, learning problems also arise because of harm to a child. It is horribly common for neglected and abused children to possess delayed developmental abilities (Prevent Child Abuse New York). Conclusively, because of a child’s need for adequate learning services, the patience necessary in order to persevere through academics may not be present. Doing well in school is  not a priority for the child abuse victims, due to survival at home being the primary focus. Some children will drop out or do poorly in academics. As a result of the unaddressed trauma, the risk of homelessness, prostitution, and reliance on public assistance due to unemployment, increases tremendously (Prevent Child Abuse New York).

As it can be deduced from the above statistics and results of child abuse and maltreatment, decreasing rates of harm to children would significantly impact (and in turn, decline) the rates of early pregnancy, criminal activity, substance abuse and addiction, homelessness, unemployment, depression and suicide, and abuse on future generations.

It is time we stop ignoring the statistics, and we become aware that children are only so resilient. They need therapy, love, and hard-working social workers to protect and fight for them when no one else will.



LET’S REVIEW: Children who have suffered from abuse and maltreatment or neglect are likely to participate or be involved in the following…

  1. Children who have suffered from a least six different difficult and abusive situations have a shorter life expectancy than the norm by 20 YEARS.
  2. They have higher rates of alcohol and substance abuse, addiction to substances, and using substances and smoking at an earlier age than the norm.
  3. Higher risk to be involved in intimate partner violence – Both in being the abused or becoming the abuser.
  4. Higher chance of abusing own children or spouse.
  5. Higher rates of depression and suicide attempts.
  6. Higher rates of unwanted pregnancy, and more adolescent pregnancies.
  7. Younger ages for sexualized behaviors and activity.
  8. More psychological disorders than those who have not experienced child abuse or maltreatment.
  9. Increased homelessness and financial instabilty.
  10. Inability to hold employment for longer terms, in in turn, lower rates of access to health care and education.
  11. Increased criminal activity and imprisonment.

(Child Abuse Statistics).



Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). (2010). Retrieved July 15, 2018, from https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/can/defining/federal/

Child Abuse Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved July 15, 2018, from https://www.childhelp.org/child-abuse-statistics/

          International Center for Assault Prevention. Statistics. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2016. <http://www.internationalcap.org/abuse_statistics.html>.

NYS Office of Children and Family Services. (n.d.). Retrieved July 15, 2018, from https://ocfs.ny.gov/main/cps/critical.asp

         Prevent Child Abuse New York. The Costs of Child Abuse and the Urgent Need for Prevention. Prevent Child Abuse New York, n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2016. <http://www.preventchildabuseny.org/files/6213/0392/2130/costs.pdf>.

Featured Image: http://www.helpnothassle.org/signs-of-child-abuse/

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