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Risk Factors
Risk & Protective Factors Associated with Child Abuse & Neglect
Risk Factors Associated with Child Abuse and Neglect
Protective Factors
Early Brain Development Information
Children with Disabilities

Risk factors associated with a child experiencing abuse include: 1,2,3,4,5

  • The child has a disability
    • Children with physical, cognitive, and emotional disabilities are 1.7 times more likely to be maltreated than children without disabilities.
    • Children who are perceived by their parents as "different" or those with special needs, chronic illnesses, or difficult temperaments may be at greater risk of maltreatment. The demands of caring for these children may overwhelm their parents. Disruptions may occur in bonding or attachment processes, particularly if children are unresponsive to affection or separated from parents by frequent hospitalizations.
    • Children with disabilities also may be vulnerable to repeated maltreatment because they may not understand that the abusive behaviors are inappropriate, and they may be unable to escape or defend themselves in abusive situations.

  • The child was a prior victim

  • The child is in foster care

  • The child is younger than 3 years of age
    • Infants and young children, due to their small physical size, early developmental status, and need for constant care, can be particularly vulnerable to certain forms of maltreatment, such as Shaken Baby Syndrome and physical neglect.

  • The child lives with a parent, sibling, or other relative that is addicted to alcohol or drugs
    • Parental substance abuse is reported to be a contributing factor for between one- and two-thirds of maltreated children in the child welfare system.

  • The family is living in poverty
    • In 1999, 85 percent of States identified poverty and substance abuse as the top two problems challenging families reported to child protective service (CPS) agencies.

  • Domestic violence occurs in the home
    • 30 to 60% of families where spouse abuse takes place, child maltreatment also occurs.

Protective factors associated with preventing child abuse include:6

  • Supportive, emotionally satisfying relationships with a network of relatives or friends can help minimize the risk of parents maltreating children, especially during stressful life events.

  • Programs on marriage education and enhancement may provide a roadmap of expected challenges such as the birth of the first child, parenting adolescents, and common gender differences which may act as a protective factor by strengthening families.

1 U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration on Children Youth & Families. Child Maltreatment 2004 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2006). Retrieved March 15, 2007 from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/cm04/cm04.pdf

2 Sullivan, P. M., & Knutson, J. F. (2000). Maltreatment and disabilities: A population-based epidemiological study. Child Abuse and Neglect, 24(10), 1257-1273.

3 Young, N. K., Gardner, S. L., & Dennis, K. (1998). Facing the problem. In Responding to alcohol and other drug problems in child welfare: Weaving together practice and policy (pp. 1-26). Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) Press.

4 Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2002). National child abuse and neglect data system (NCANDS) summary of key findings for calendar year 2000. Washington, DC: Author

5 Edelson, J. L. (1999). The overlap between child maltreatment and woman battering. Violence Against Women, 5(2), 134-154; Appel, A. E., & Holden, G. W. (1998). The co-occurrence of spouse and physical child abuse: A review and appraisal. Journal of Family Psychology, 12(4), 578-599.

6 Stanley, S. M., Markman, H. J., & Jenkins, N. H. (2002). Marriage education and government policy: Helping couples who choose marriage achieve success. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Mental Health.
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