8 Causes of Child Abuse and Neglect

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Parental Factors that Contribute to Child Abuse and Neglect

Reports of crimes against children are featured in every newspaper, in every country, on a regular basis. Understanding the parental factors that contribute to the crimes of child abuse and neglect can help focus services. And, properly focused services could reduce many of the contributing factors.


While no event happens in isolation, isolation itself can be a strong parental factor that contributes to child abuse. Parents that lack a connection to other people, or who have had their connections to others severed, lack a basic support system.

Without this important support system, the adult has no one that will listen to their concerns, fears, or allow them to vent about their anxieties. Feelings of isolation can lead to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Isolated from society’s support structure, the individual is also isolated from society’s behavioral expectations.  With no support and no imposed limits, the isolated parent can find it easy to physically or emotionally victimize their children.

Drug or Alcohol Abuse

It is no longer easy to assume that drug and alcohol abuse only happens within low socio-economic families. Alcohol and drugs, even over-used prescription medication, can lower inhibitions.  Chronic abuse leads to withdrawal symptoms which often increase aggressive behaviors.

Eventually, the desire for the medication, the drug, or the alcohol becomes the focus of the addicted adult.  Once the focus shifts from the needs of the family, neglect and abuse can quickly occur.

Domestic Violence

Violence in the home takes a drastic toll on the abused spouse and the children in the home.  Often, the child may not be the direct target of the abuse. However, the emotional toll and chaotic home life damages the child’s emotional growth and development.

The abused and the abuser play an equal role in the harm done to children living in a home filled with domestic violence. In addition to the emotional damage, children living in the home are often unintended victims and are hurt “just by accident.”

Economic Stressors

Not every child in a low-income family is abused.  But, the current state of the economy has had a negative impact on many families.  Homes, jobs, and dreams have been lost.  The underlying emotion during difficult economic times is fear and fear often leads to aggression.

While socio-economic status is not an automatic indicator of abuse or neglect, how a family copes with economic stressors is a clear indicator.  A family that focuses on hope instead of loss is less likely to abuse or neglect their children and more likely to manage the economic stressors successfully.

Physical Health

Fewer people have access to medical care than in the past.  Physical pain and trauma can become a considerable factor, especially when the family has no resources to obtain the medical care necessary to meet their needs.

The adult’s inability to accept or provide for their child’s physical disabilities can lead to abuse. The parent grieves for the future the disable child will not have and sometimes resents the child for the loss of those dreams.

Cranky, colicky children or children that cry excessively make it harder for the parental bond to develop.  And, without that bond, becoming abusive is easier.

Parental Age

Very young parents often lack the reasoning skills and experience that comes with maturity.  That same lack of experience may lead a young parent to have unreasonable expectations of their child’s developmental skills.

Aging parents, or grandparents serving the role of parents, have less energy and may be living on a fixed income.  Their expectations of young children may be out dated and can lead to conflict with younger adolescents—conflicts that can quickly escalate into abuse.

History of Abuse

“We parent the way we were parented” is a scary thought if the parental history includes abuse or neglect.  Children that were abused too frequently grow to become abusive.

While none of these factors taken individually guarantee that abuse will occur, these factors seldom appear as a single contributor to abuse or neglect.

Community Considerations

Communities can work together to offer resources such as parent education, food banks, job re-training, drug and alcohol rehab with a goal of reducing child abuse and neglect.

Resources need to be made available through a wide-variety of avenues including visits to the home, on-line training, and centralized community support agencies.

While no single community program can meet all of the needs for all of the people, coordinated efforts could help meet the needs of a greater number of people.


Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina

National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse

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