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Child neglect and emotional abuse

Neglect and emotional abuse can cause a child a lot of harm. It is often hard to see or prove this kind of abuse, so other people are less likely to help the child. When a child is being physically or sexually abused, emotional abuse is also often happening to the child.

EMOTIONAL ABUSE

These are examples of emotional abuse:

  • Not providing the child with a safe environment. The child witnesses violence or severe abuse between parents or adults.
  • Threatening the child with violence or abandonment.
  • Constantly criticizing or blaming the child for problems.
  • The child's parent or caregiver does not show concern for the child, and refuses help from others for the child.

These are signs that a child that may be emotionally abused. They may have:

  • Problems in school
  • Eating disorders, leading to weight loss or poor weight gain
  • Emotional issues such as low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety
  • Extreme behavior such as acting out, trying hard to please, aggressiveness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Vague physical complaints

CHILD NEGLECT

These are examples of child neglect:

  • Rejecting the child and not giving the child any love
  • Not feeding the child
  • Not dressing the child in proper clothing
  • Not giving needed medical or dental care
  • Leaving a child alone for a long time. This is called abandonment.

These are signs that a child that may be neglected. The child may:

  • Not go to school regularly
  • Smell badly and be dirty
  • Tells you that there is no one at home to take care of them.
  • The adult in their life does not seem to care about the child, is depressed, shows bizarre behavior, or uses alcohol or drugs

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP

If you think a child is in immediate danger because of abuse or neglect, call 911.

Call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-4-A-CHILD).

Know that children and parents can get help. The long-term outcome depends on:

  • How severe the abuse was
  • How long the child was abused
  • The success of therapy and parenting classes

References

Dubowitz H, Lane WG. Abused and neglected children. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, Schor NF, Behrman RE, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 37.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Child Welfare Information Gateway. Identification of Abuse and Neglect. Available at: https://www.childwelfare.gov/can/identifying/. Accessed November 21, 2014.

Updated: 11/20/2014

Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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