Child abuse and neglect are serious public health issues with far-reaching consequences for the youngest and most vulnerable members of society, said Janette Wheat, Ph.D, associate professor at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.


In addition to the suffering and negative effects of child abuse and neglect, there is an economic cost, said Wheat, who is also a Cooperative Extension Program human development specialist.


“In the United States, the total lifetime economic burden associated with child abuse and neglect was approximately $124 billion in 2008,” according to a news release. “This economic burden rivals the cost of other high profile public health problems, such as stroke and type 2 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2019 report.”


The CDC identified four common types of abuse and neglect:


• Physical abuse is the intentional use of physical force. Examples include hitting, kicking, shaking, burning or other force against a child.


• Sexual abuse is pressuring or forcing a child to engage in sexual acts such as fondling, penetration or exposing a child to sexual acts.


• Emotional abuse are behaviors that harm a child’s self-worth or emotional well-being such as name calling, shaming, rejecting or withholding love.


Neglect is failing to meet a child’s basic physical and emotional needs which include housing, food, clothing, education and access to medical care.


Child abuse is common, Wheat said.


“At least one in seven children has experienced child abuse and/or neglect in the past year. In 2019 the CDC reported this is likely an underestimate. Rates of child abuse and neglect are five times higher for children in low socio-economic families as compared to those in higher socio-economic families,” according to the release.


Child abuse and neglect are not inevitable and can be prevented, Wheat said.


“Safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments are the keys for prevention. It is important to learn how to prevent child abuse and neglect before it begins, and the CDC has online resources,” according to the release.


Wheat and the CDC agree that public policies and programs that are supportive of children and families help prevent abuse and neglect, too.


“Preventing child abuse and neglect can prevent other forms of violence. Various types of violence are interrelated and share many risks and protective factors, consequences and prevention tactics,” she said.


With the scope and prevalence of child abuse and neglect, merely acknowledging it is not enough.


“Children’s lives are shaped by their experiences, including what happens in their environment and their relationships with their parents, teachers and caregivers,” according to the release.


“Children who experience abuse, neglect and other adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are also at increased risk for negative health consequences and certain chronic diseases as adults,” Wheat said.


The CDC describes ACEs as all types of abuse, neglect and other potentially traumatic experiences that occur to children under age 18. ACEs have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration and lifelong health and opportunity.


“To minimize the effect of adverse childhood experiences, Wheat suggests helping create neighborhoods, communities and a world in which every child can thrive. The CDC has a technical package, Preventing Child Abuse & Neglect: A Technical Package for Policy, Norm, and Programmatic Activities, to help do this,” according to the release.


Other CDC resources are Framework and Essentials for Parenting Toddlers and Preschoolers. Parenting education programs from Early Head Start and Adults and Children Together Against Violence: Parents Raising Safe Kids (ACT Raising Safe Kids) (http://www.apa.org/act/) programs also help create environments that prevent children’s exposure to abuse and adversities. All of the resources can be accessed online.


The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all of its Extension and Research programs and services without discrimination.


— Carol Sanders is a writer/editor at the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human.