Child Abuse Frequently Asked Questions

How is child abuse defined?

Child abuse refers to an act committed by a parent, caregiver or person in a position of trust that is not accidental and that harms or threatens to harm a child's physical health, mental health or welfare. This includes individuals that may not care for the child on a daily basis.

What are the basic types of child abuse?

The four basic types of child abuse are physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse and sexual abuse.

  • Physical abuse occurs when an adult injures a child and it is not an accident. It can include:

  • Assault

  • Shaking or slapping

  • Burning or scalding

  • Kicking

  • Strangling

  • Neglect is any maltreatment or negligence that harms a child's health, welfare or safety. It can include physical, emotional or educational neglect through such actions as:

    • Abandonment

    • Refusal to seek treatment for illness

    • Inadequate supervision

    • Health hazards in the home

    • Ignoring a child's need for contact, affirmation and stimulation

    • Providing inadequate emotional nurturance

    • Knowingly permitting chronic truancy

    • Keeping a child home from school repeatedly without cause

    • Failing to enroll a child in school (or home school)

  • Emotional abuse deeply affects a child's self-esteem by submitting him/her to verbal assault or emotional cruelty. It does not always involve visible injuries. It can include:

    • Close confinement, such as being shut in a closet

    • Inadequate nurturance

    • Extreme discipline

    • Knowingly permitting such behavior as drug or alcohol abuse

  • Sexual abuse involves sexual contact between a child or teenager and an adult or significantly older, more powerful person. Children are not developmentally capable of understanding or resisting sexual contact and may be psychologically and socially dependent upon the offender. In addition to sexual contact, abuse can include other exploitative behaviors such as:

    • Inappropriate verbal stimulation of a child or teenager

    • Taking or showing sexually explicit photographs of or to a child or teenager

    • Exposing a child or teenager to pornography or adult sexual activity.

What are some possible indicators of child abuse or neglect?

  • Self-destructive and destructive behavior

  • Fractures, lacerations, bruises that cannot be explained or explanations which are improbable given a child's developmental stage

  • Failure to thrive

  • Depression, passivity

  • Hyperactive/disruptive behavior

  • Sexualized behavior or precocious knowledge of explicit sexual behavior, pseudo-maturity

  • Running away, promiscuous behavior

  • Alcohol or drug abuse, other self-destructive behavior, e.g., eating disorders

How widespread are child abuse and neglect?

Alabama’s #8 Health Concern

Child abuse and neglect are important health issues for Alabama. Child abuse is defined as harm or a threat of harm to a child’s health or welfare. Child neglect is negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child, including the failure to provide adequately for a child. In Alabama, the Office of Child Protective Services of the Family Services Division of the Alabama Department of Human Resources is responsible for collecting reports of child abuse and neglect. Additionally, the Office of Child Protective Services maintains the central registry on child abuse and neglect, applies and monitors grants for protective services projects, and provides case consultation services for child abuse and neglect.

Alabamians identified child abuse and neglect as the eighth greatest current health concern in Alabama. Unfortunately, instances of child abuse and neglect are often unreported. Many states have enacted mandatory reporting laws that compel certain professionals to report child abuse and neglect to a state or local agency. In Alabama, health care professionals, school teachers, law enforcement officers, social workers, day care employees, and clergy are required by law to report suspected or known instances of child abuse or neglect. Reports of child abuse or neglect may be provided to local police, the Office of Child Protective Services, or any group designated by the Office of Child Protective Services to receive reports of child abuse and neglect.

Alabama Child Abuse and Neglect Highlights

  • The statewide rate of reported cases of child abuse and neglect has been relatively steady for the past several years at a rate of less than 19 cases per 1,000 children.

  • The data available is for reported cases of child abuse and neglect, not confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect. As child abuse and neglect cases are often underreported, this could lead to reporting bias where counties with better reporting appear to have higher rates of child abuse and neglect than counties with poor reporting.

  • The rate of reported cases for rural counties is slightly higher than the rate of reported cases for urban counties (19.8 versus 17.5).

What should you do if you suspect child abuse?

The goals of any effective response to suspected abuse are to:

  • Protect the child from further abuse

  • Stop the offender's abuse

  • Heal the victim's brokenness

  • Restore the family, or if not possible, help victims to mourn the loss of family relationships

Anyone may report suspected child abuse and will not be liable for an unfounded report if it is made in good faith. In every state and province, persons in helping professions teachers, doctors, counselors, police officers, social workers, health professionals are legally mandated to report a suspicion of child abuse or neglect to child abuse authorities.