Among today’s saddest news reports are
those about the battering and neglect of
children. Nationally, about two million cases
of child abuse are reported annually, with
perhaps twice as many going unreported.
Each year an estimated 2,000 children die
from abuse inflicted by parents or adult caregivers.
In Iowa, 20,866 cases of child abuse
were reported during 1993, and 6,386 cases
of abuse were found to have occurred.
We all bear the social and financial aftermath of
this abuse. Child abuse can occur in all families
and communities. Fortunately, there are now
many successful prevention and treatment
programs. Working together, we can help break
this tragic cycle of abuse and neglect.
Child abuse and neglect:
What are they?
Child abuse can be physical, such as when a
child is injured on purpose or mistreated sexually.
Emotional abuse includes placing excessive or
unrealistic demands on a child. Verbal abuse
includes name calling, unnecessary criticism and
excessive yelling—all of which damage a child’s
self-esteem. Physical and emotional bullying by
other children also can be abusive. Child neglect
includes failing to provide a child with food,
shelter, supervision, education or medical care.
Who mistreats children
Most people believe that individuals who were
abused as children grow up to be abusive parents.
However, recent research suggests that only 20 to
30 percent of abuse victims actually abuse their
When abuse is less severe, occurs before
adolescence, and happens over a short period of
time, the victims are much less likely to become
abusive parents. Also when only one parent has
abused the child and when the other parent
provides a supportive relationship, the child is
less likely to abuse as an adult.
Abusers of children can be parents, siblings,
friends, relatives, or adults who work with
children. People who abuse children come from all
economic levels and backgrounds. Often they may
have unrealistic expectations of children and may
not understand normal child development.
Special-needs children are especially vulnerable
since they place extra demands on parents and
caregivers. Stress and frequent crises contribute to
the potential for abuse. Adults with marital,
financial, or other problems are less patient with
children and may turn their frustration against the
children. Substance abuse and domestic violence
often are intertwined in the child abuse cycle.
We need to understand that people who abuse
children usually do not dislike children. In fact,
abusers often have genuine love and concern for
their children. They simply get caught up in a
cycle of frustration and violence and do not know
how to change their behavior. Both the abuser and
the abused child need help. With education and
compassion, we can guide them toward healthier
patterns of living and learning.
Reporting child abuse and neglect
Children rely on adults to report suspected
abuse. Child victims may be afraid to tell someone
they are being abused. Many children mistakenly
believe they deserve the abuse. If a child tells you
about abuse, pay attention.
Child abuse is against the law. Every state has
mandatory reporting laws. The earlier you identify
a problem, the better. If you know of or suspect child
abuse or neglect, you have a social and legal
responsibility to report it to your local child protection
agency. Phone numbers are listed on the back of
this sheet. Remember that a person who in good
faith reports a suspected case of child abuse has
legal immunity from liability. The source of child
abuse information is kept confidential, if at all
If you report suspected abuse, you do not need
to prove that it occurred. A report is a request for
an investigation. Child protection workers are
trained to assess family situations, identify
problems, and ensure children’s safety.
Indicators of child abuse
There are various characteristics that suggest
child abuse and neglect. While these signs may
indicate other problems, they can help you
determine if abuse or neglect is occurring.
Child-related signs of possible abuse or neglect:
• Suspicious burns, bruises, injuries
• Often tired, hungry, or not clean
• Needs glasses or dental/medical care
• Extreme aggression and/or passivity
• Lags in development
• Afraid of parents or adults
• Unpleasant, demanding
• Often does not obey
• Mood swings
• Unusually shy, avoids other children and adults
• Avoids physical contact
• Apt to seek affection from any adult
• Reports being hurt or abused
• Unusual sexual awareness or behavior
Parent or caregiver signs of possible abuse:
• Misuses alcohol or other drugs
• Disorganized, upset home life
• Does not seem to care what happens
• Isolated, doesn’t seem to get along with others
• Uses inappropriate, harsh discipline
• Seems unconcerned about child
• Sees child as very bad or evil
• Gives questionable explanation of child’s injury
The best approach: prevention
The effects of child abuse and neglect are farreaching
and long-lasting. Children suffer emotional
and physical damage from abuse throughout their
lives. Some children die. About 20 percent of those
abused grow up to become abusive adults. Society
pays the price in violence, legal fees, lost creativity,
and social service programs.
Prevention programs work and cost far less
than the social and economic price we pay once
abuse occurs. Successful programs include:
• Prenatal support and education
• Parent education
• Accessible, quality childcare
• Early health care and developmental screening
• Stress management and impulse control
• Self-help groups, parent support groups
• Home health visitors and foster grandparents
• Church, neighborhood, and community programs
What you can do
There are many ways to become actively
involved in the prevention of child abuse.
1. Take a look at yourself. If you are a parent or a
child caregiver, reach out for help if you feel
overwhelmed. Educate yourself about parenthood.
It’s one of the most important roles you will
2. Look around you. Learn the indicators of
abuse and neglect. Be aware of what is going
on around you. Report abuse if you suspect it.
If a friend needs help with the stress of
parenting, reach out.
3. Nurture and encourage children. Express your
love and appreciation. Don’t be too busy to
give the special children in your life a hug and
a smile. A few words of encouragement and
some moments of undivided attention make a
4. Get involved. Start a parent support group in
your neighborhood. Request speakers on
parenting for school or church meetings.
Volunteer your time or contribute financially.
Support your friends and family members.
Prevention begins right in your own home and