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Child Abuse

Special Feature
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A child’s exposure to violence, crime and abuse can lead to serious consequences for their health and well-being that can last long into adulthood.

In federal fiscal year 2020, it was estimated that 618,000 children were victims of child abuse and neglect nationally, according to a report from the Department of Health & Human Services.

While federal legislation provides a foundation for states by identifying a set of acts or behaviors that define child abuse and neglect, each state has its own definitions of abuse and neglect based on these standards.

For law enforcement, the investigation of child abuse is a critical and sensitive issue that affects the safety and well-being of children nationwide. Law enforcement personnel often have the difficult task of determining if a child’s injury is accidental or deliberately inflicted.

To help law enforcement differentiate between physical abuse and accidental injury, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) published Recognizing When a Child’s Injury or Illness Is Caused by Abuse, which outlines the critical questions to ask when making this judgment. Additionally, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has supported a series of research projects characterizing pediatric injuries, modeling injury risk and building an evidence base to help determine the likelihood of abuse as the cause of injuries in children.

Results from research supported by NIJ have also shown that childhood abuse increased the risk of crime in adulthood by promoting antisocial behavior during adolescence, followed by the formation of relationships with antisocial romantic partners and peers in adulthood.

The challenges become more complex for youth who have been both victims of abuse and engaged in delinquent acts, as they often enter the juvenile justice system without a strong family support system.

To improve the judicial process for child abuse and neglect cases with the goal of improving safety, permanency and well-being outcomes for children, OJJDP supports the Implementation Sites Project. OJJDP also funds numerous other projects, programs and trainings that are critical to intervening in and investigating child abuse and neglect cases.

The Office for Victims of Crime has developed Child Victims and Witnesses Support Materials in its support of child and youth victims. These resources teach children how the justice system works, what their rights are, the roles of the different practitioners they’ll meet and how they can cope with the difficult feelings they might have. For children who must testify, there are also tips to help them prepare for going to court.

Visit the following pages for additional information and resources produced or sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs and other federal sources:

Date Modified: March 16, 2022
Date Created: August 14, 2020