Contributing factors to child abuse and neglect

There is generally not a single factor that results in the abuse or neglect of a child; it is usually a combination of various factors. In addition, the duration (such as the duration of an illness) or intensity (such as the level of drug or alcohol abuse) can make it more or less likely that a child will be at risk for abuse. When trying to understand child abuse and neglect, we often look at possible factors in the adult, factors based on something in society, and factors based on something about the child.

Possible societal contributing factors

There are many deeply rooted, complicated and interrelated societal factors that can contribute to child abuse and neglect. While we cannot list them all here, the following two factors are often identified as increasing the likelihood that child abuse and neglect will occur.
  • Stresses of poverty
  • Community violence

Possible adult contributing factors

Research tells us that there is no "typical" abuser. People who abuse children may be male or female and the majority of child abuse is committed by someone who knows the child. In over 80% of cases a parent is the identified perpetrator. The following are characteristics of some people who abuse children.
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor control over their emotions
  • A history of being abused themselves
  • Stress
  • Financial problems
  • Social isolation
  • Relationship problems with a partner (may include domestic violence)
  • Lack of parenting skills
  • Is abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Illness
  • Belief that too much praise or attention will spoil a child
  • Belief that fear and embarrassment are the way to make sure children obey
  • Doesn't understand children's needs or abilities and criticizes children who can't meet their high expectations
  • Belief that children should be quiet at all times
  • Inability to cope with life stressors
  • Focused on own troubles or things other than their children
  • Has been diagnosed or exhibits symptoms of depression

Possible child contributing factors

Some children have certain characteristics or behaviors that make it more likely that they will be at risk for abuse or neglect. However, it is important to remember that no matter what characteristics a child has or how they act a child is NEVER responsible for being abused or neglected.
  • Illness, especially chronic illness
  • Disability
  • Crying for extended periods
  • Feeding problems
  • Tantrums and whining
  • Biting
  • Toilet learning
  • Disobedience and lying
  • Physical appearance (for example, resembles someone who is viewed negatively by the caregiver)
  • Poor grades