What is Child Physical Abuse? Physical Abuse of Children
Would you know how to spot child physical abuse? Despite the popular notion that physical child abuse is rare, almost 200,000 cases were reported in the United States and its territories in 2007. The actual number of cases is probably much higher because many people fail to report known or suspected abuse.
Social workers and other health-related professionals used to refer to signs of child physical abuse as battered child syndrome. This terminology referred to the bone fractures and related injuries occurring when the child was too young to accidentally become injured in this way.
Physical Child Abuse Definition
Experts have now expanded the physical child abuse definition. They now define it as:
non-accidental injury resulting from hitting, whipping, beating, biting, kicking, or anything that harms a child's body.
Children in physically abusive situations often have unexplained broken bones, bruise marks in the shape of an object such as a belt or hand, or burn marks from cigarettes on exposed areas or on the genitalia.
Physical Child Abuse – How and Where to Report It
You may encounter someone that exhibits the signs of physical child abuse at a family or school event, church gathering, or any number of places. Sometimes health care professionals identify physical child abuse when an adult brings a child to the emergency room with an unlikely explanation about how the injury occurred. Sometimes it's evident that the injury is old.
If you see a child with unexplained bruises, black eyes, choke marks around the neck, human bite marks, lash marks, or the like, it's your responsibility to report it to the proper authorities.
All states have laws in place requiring you to report known or suspected child physical abuse or neglect. You can call your own health care provider or your state's Child Protective Services.
Most states have a child abuse hotline that you can call to report child physical abuse. You can also call the Child Help National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). Of course, if you suspect a child is in immediate danger, call 911 immediately.
For more information about state laws concerning physical child abuse, visit the Child Welfare Gateway Laws and Policies webpage.
What Happens After You Report Child Physical Abuse?
Child Protective Services (sometimes called Social Services, Human Services, Human Welfare, or Children and Family Services), the police or emergency services will never reveal your identity to the child or any adults involved in the abusive situation.
Social workers and other appropriate authorities will investigate the situation and evaluate whether or not abuse or neglect has occurred. If they determine the child is being abused or neglected, they may temporarily or permanently remove the child from the situation and he or she will undergo further diagnostic tests and exams. The investigative team will then come up with the best possible recovery plan for the child.
Parents or other adults involved in inflicting physical child abuse will need therapy and sometimes other (more punitive) interventions. Recovery prognosis for the child depends upon the extent of the abuse, the nature of the injuries, and the psychological effect these experiences have had on him or her.
Read more about Healing from Child Physical Abuse.
Please, if you suspect child abuse or neglect, report your concerns to the proper authorities. You may be wrong, but it's better to err on the side of caution, especially when an innocent child hangs in the balance.
Last Updated: 25 May 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD