There is no single cause of child maltreatment and it can come from any type of family, of all incomes, and of all religions. Along with many other consequences, child abuse and neglect can result in physical and psychological harm. A physically abused child may develop aggressive behaviors that lead to recurring maltreatment. If this maltreatment is not addressed, it can contribute to later problems in life, such as, alcoholism/substance abuse, depression, domestic violence, multiple sex partners, and suicidal thoughts and attempts. The impact of the abuse can vary depending on age and developmental status when the abuse occurred, type of abuse, frequency of the abuse, and the relationship between his or her abuser.

Parent or caregiver risk include: low self-esteem, poor impulse control, depression, anxiety, experiencing or witnessing abuse as a child, substance abuse that interferes with mental functioning, and lack of knowledge about child development and unrealistic expectations. There are as well family risk factors that include: Children living with single parents are more likely to live in poverty with fewer social supports, children in violent homes may witness intimate partner violence, parenting and emotional distress, and maltreating parents or caregivers are less supportive, affectionate, playful and responsive with their children.

There are factors to protect a child from risk of abuse or neglect, this includes the following: the child’s optimism or high self esteem that can enhance their coping skills in the face of adversity, the acceptance of peers and positive influences, the families access to social support, the child’s experience of love, and parent’s or caregivers respectful communication and listening. Also, it is important for the parent’s or caregiver to have a social network or community of supportive people. This is because a child needs a parent or caregiver to be able to cope with stress and have resiliency to bounce back when things are going well. Lastly, it is important for families to be able to meet the basic needs for food, clothing, housing, transportation, and know how to access healthcare and mental health services.

There are programs in order to help prevent child abuse. Primary prevention programs raise awareness among the public. Secondary prevention programs target populations with one or more risk factors for child maltreatment. Tertiary prevention programs target families where maltreatment has already taken place and aim to reduce the impact and prevent it from recurring.