Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is the second most common form of child maltreatment. Legal definitions vary from state to state, but, broadly, child physical abuse is any physical act by a caregiver that results in a child being hurt or injured.

Children who are physically abused can develop child traumatic stress. They are also at risk for depression and anxiety. Child abuse has been linked to poor physical, emotional, and mental development.

The resources listed below explain the nature, prevalence, and impact of physical abuse and provide information on its prevention and treatment.

 Page Contents:

General Information on Physical Abuse and Its Prevention

Child Physical Abuse Fact Sheet (2009) (PDF)
This fact sheet explains the prevalence and consequences of child physical abuse, and offers guidance on how to recognize and help children who are being physically abused.

Physical Punishment: What Parents Should Know (2009) (PDF)
Many parents believe that physical punishment is an acceptable form of discipline. But child behavior research shows that there are far more effective ways to change children's challenging and upsetting behaviors. This publication provides parents with the facts on the negative impact of physical punishment, and introduces parents to effective alternatives to physically disciplining their children.

Raising Well-Behaved Kids: What Parents Should Know (PDF)
Raising well-behaved kids is a challenge. Although there is no "right way" to do it, there are some methods that work better than others. This fact sheet provides parents and caregivers with positive, proven techniques for changing problem behaviors and setting the tone for a peaceful and happy home.

What You Should Expect from Treatment: Building Strong Parent-Child Relationships (2012) (PDF)
This fact sheets offers suggestions for parents who are looking for help reducing family conflict and building stronger parent-child relationships. What do we know about which treatments or programs are most effective?

The Hope of Family Focused Interventions for Child Physical Abuse (Video)
Using the case of one family that sought treatment, this video outlines the causes and consequences of child abuse, and describes how family-focused interventions can help families make a new beginning. Produced in partnership with the Physical Abuse Collaborative Group.

Questions and Answers about Child Physical Abuse (2008) (PDF)
David Kolko, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and a Network member, answers commonly-asked questions about physical abuse.

Physical Abuse Reading List
This reading list includes important recent scholarly work as well as classic articles and book chapters on child physical abuse.

Back to Top

Child Physical Abuse Speaker Series

This free series of on-demand training presentations in the NCTSN Learning Center for Child and Adolescent Trauma features many of the top experts in the field.  Presenters discuss engagement strategies, clinical and forensic assessment, cultural issues, and evidence-based interventions for families in which there is known or suspected child physical abuse. Continuing education (CE) credits are available.

Back to Top

Interventions for Physically Abused Children

The interventions listed below target children who have been, or are at risk of becoming, victims of abuse. For each intervention listed, the first fact sheet contains general information, while the second focuses on aspects of the intervention that take account of clients' cultural backgrounds. 

Alternatives for Families - A Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (AF-CBT) (2008) (PDF)
AF-CBT: Culture-Specific Information (2008) (PDF)

Combined Parent Child Cognitive-Behavioral Approach for Children and Families At-Risk for Child Physical Abuse (CPC-CBT) (2009) (PDF)
CPC-CBT: Culture-Specific Information (2008) (PDF)

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) (2008) (PDF)
PCIT: Culture-Specific Information (2008) (PDF) 

Back to Top

Additional Information 

National Child Abuse Prevention Month
Resources and links made available in recognition of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, which is observed every April.

Child Welfare Information Gateway
A service of the Children's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Child Welfare Information Gateway provides access to print and electronic publications, websites, and online databases covering a wide range of topics from prevention to permanency, including child welfare, child abuse and neglect, adoption, search and reunion, and much more.

Child Welfare League of America: Child Protection
The Child Protection Program of the Child Welfare League of America works to enhance children's safety by fostering the development of comprehensive, community based approaches to protecting children and supporting and strengthening families. This website offers publications, statistics, links, and resources on child protection and child abuse prevention.

Child Abuse Reporting
State Statutes
What are your state's laws regarding child abuse reporting? Search State Statutes for reporting laws, and other legislation related to child abuse and neglect, child welfare, and adoption. Results will provide summaries of state statutes and full text of laws in some cases.

Organizations That Address Child Abuse Prevention
American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children
The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children is a national organization whose mission is to enhance the ability of professionals to respond to children and families affected by abuse and violence.

International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect
The International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect educates and trains professionals so they have the expertise to help abused and vulnerable children.

Prevent Child Abuse America
Working with their chapters, Prevent Child Abuse America provides leadership to promote and implement prevention efforts at both the national and local levels.

Reports and Recommendations
Abusive Head Trauma in Infants and Children
Cindy W. Christian, MD, Robert Block, MD and the Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect, American Academy of Pediatrics The position statement, developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, discusses the range of mechanisms that contribute to brain injury from abusive head trauma, and the social and legal ramifications of diagnoses.

Addressing the Needs of Families During an Economic Crisis
This report highlights the devastating impacts of poverty and economic shifts on vulnerable families and provides evidence for the increased risk of child abuse during an economic crisis.

Child Maltreatment 2007
This annual publication from the Administration for Children and Families reports statistics on child maltreatment derived from data collected by child protective services agencies through the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS).

Report on Physical Punishment in the United States: What Research Tells Us About Its Effects on Children (PDF)
Elizabeth T. Gershoff, Center for Effective Discipline
This report provides a concise review of the empirical research to date on the effects physical punishment has on children. This report was created for parents and others who care for children, professionals who provide services to them, those who develop policy and programs that affect children and families, interested members of the public, and children themselves.

Total Estimated Cost of Child Abuse and Neglect in the United States: An Economic Impact Study (PDF)
Ching-Tung Wang and John Holton, Prevent Child Abuse America
This brief estimates that the annual cost associated with the abuse and neglect of children is over $100 billion. Direct costs such as hospitalization and mental health services for children, and indirect costs—including special education, lost productivity to society, and juvenile justice system involvement—are analyzed. 

Back to Top