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Child Maltreatment Prevention

Child abuse: Types and who's at risk
Child abuse: When and how to report

Call 1-800-252-5400 to report abuse
Visit to report abuse online

Child maltreatment, sometimes referred to as child abuse and neglect, includes all forms of physical and emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, and exploitation that results in actual or potential harm to the child's health, development or dignity. Within this broad definition, five subtypes can be distinguished – physical abuse; sexual abuse; neglect and negligent treatment; emotional abuse; and exploitation.

At The Center for Prevention of Child Maltreatment, we want you to know that you aren't alone. We're committed to strengthening families and communities so maltreatment of all forms can be avoided. We've compiled tips and resources to help you develop and promote healthy parenting so we can set strong examples against child maltreatment. If you should get overwhelmed, you'll find resources for that as well. Help is just a phone call away. Call the Texas Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-5400.

What is maltreatment?

Maltreatment can occur outside the home, sometimes in places we like to think of as "safe," and can include peer groups (bullying, date rape, hazing, etc.). Maltreatment can also begin with a stranger who befriends kids and leads them into human trafficking with promises of glamour, money, material goods ... and love. But abuse can – and most often does – happen in the home or within the family. Knowing what constitutes maltreatment is the first step toward stopping it. Maltreatment of a child includes:

  • Sexual abuse – inappropriate touching, indecent exposure, and exploitation, including human trafficking
  • Physical abuse – punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, or threatening with any type of weapon
  • Neglect – malnourishment, dirty clothing and living quarters, child left alone for long periods of time, frequent absences and tardiness at school
  • Emotional abuse – extreme punishment such as being locked in a room or closet or denied food or water, name calling, belittling, blaming, withholding love
  • Drug exposure – prenatal exposure to drug abuse and children exposed to drugs and alcohol abuse by parents, including illegal drug activity in the home which may put a child in harm's way.
  • Medical child abuse – often referred to as Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy – a caregiver may cause a child to become ill just to gain attention. The result is needless medical intervention and treatment and risky actions by the caregiver which can cause great harm and risk to the child's health and life.

What kids need to know about maltreatment

  • Educate them about their bodies. Teach them about which parts are private. Help them to understand the difference between touches that are okay and those that aren't. Let them know that it's okay to tell if someone tries to touch or hurt them, that it's okay not to keep a secret that makes them feel bad or scared.
  • Teach them when to say, "no." We want our children to be respectful of others, and we want them to respect themselves. Help them understand that it's okay to say no to someone who is trying to get them to do something uncomfortable.
  • Create safety rules then discuss and practice them often.

For more in-depth information on child maltreatment, how to recognize it, and what you can do help bring an end to this needless childhood malady, visit

Signs of sexual and physical abuse

Child maltreatment is more common than most people imagine. Victims of sexual and physical abuse may be girls or boys of any age. Abuse occurs in all types of families. Recent statistics indicate that one in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. Abuse can be devastating for young victims, but they often show no obvious physical signs of the abuse. Some behavioral and emotional responses are common among the victims of sexual and physical abuse. Parents should remember that not all children who demonstrate these behaviors have been abused.

Common symptoms of sexual abuse include*:

  • Depression – withdrawal, poor motivation, increase in crying, talking about death/dying, suicidal thoughts and/or attempts
  • Poor self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Changes in sleep patterns, nightmares, bedwetting
  • Regression – loss of bowel and bladder control, thumb sucking, renewed need for a security blanket, clingy behavior
  • Unusual fears of people and places
  • Acting out sexually
  • Eating disorders or feeding difficulties
  • Changes in school performance, loss of concentration, distraction
  • Substance abuse
  • Frequent medical complaints, such as nausea, headaches
  • Excessive masturbation

*List adapted from material by Suzanne Sgroi, M.D., a leading researcher in the area of child sexual abuse.

Common symptoms of physical abuse include**:

  • Fearing parents/caretakers
  • Reporting injury by parents/caretakers
  • Fearing home
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Showing wariness of physical contact
  • Seeking affection from anyone
  • Behaving aggressively
  • Settling in quickly in new surroundings
  • Showing nervousness or fear when other children cry
  • Expecting no comfort or assurance from parents
  • Becoming highly aware or overly sensitive to his/her surroundings
  • Having difficulty learning.
  • Wearing clothes that hide injuries
  • Avoiding gym class
  • Arriving early to school and leaving late
  • Recording poor school attendance

** List adapted from material by Robert Reece, M.D., a national expert in child maltreatment.

Get help and get involved

What do I do if I suspect a child is the victim of maltreatment?

If you suspect that a child is the victim of maltreatment, contact your local police department. You can also call the Texas Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-5400, or file a report at If it is an emergency, please dial 911 for assistance.

Getting help

Get involved

Promoting healthy parenting practices and the prevention of child maltreatment is an issue that we can't tackle alone. Here are some of the groups that would love to hear from you:

Care in the community

Maltreatment hurts us all. Becoming aware of maltreatment is the first step toward stopping it. That's why our C.A.R.E. Team and The Center for Prevention of Child Maltreatment offer community-based training on the medical aspects of child maltreatment for health professionals and others, such as law enforcement and child protection workers. We also provide training to various community agencies on the dynamics of child sexual and physical abuse and related topics.

For more information on scheduling community education and training, call Cook Children's at 682-885-3953. If you are concerned that a child is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.