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Defining Child Maltreatment

Understanding an issue as broad as child maltreatment can be a challenge. However, a clear grasp of the problem is the first step toward finding effective solutions.

Child maltreatment is any act, intentional or not, that results in harm, the potential for harm, or the threat of harm to a child. The failure to provide for a child’s needs or to protect a child from harm or potential harm is also child maltreatment. Child maltreatment can be by a parent, a caregiver or an authorized custodian of the child, such as a coach, teacher or clergyperson.

The four types of child maltreatment include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect. Each one is different, yet harmful to the children and families involved and their communities.

CDC works with communities to understand and consistently define child maltreatment, so successful prevention can happen.

To find a description of child maltreatment and the importance of consistent definitions, please visit CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention website.