Risk Factors

​Risk factors are the individual and environmental factors that increase the likelihood of a child becoming victimized by child maltreatment. Children are never responsible for the harm inflicted upon them. However, certain characteristics have a higher tendency to be present when there is an occurrence of child abuse and neglect. Risk factors include:

Child Characteristics

  • Young age (the majority of children who experience child maltreatment are younger than four years old, the majority are one year or younger)
  • Special needs (such as developmental disability, premature birth, mental health issues, intellectual disability, chronic physical health issues)

Parental Characteristics

  • Lack of knowledge and understanding of typical child development
  • History of being abused as a child
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Mental illness, including depression
  • Lack of social support
  • Unrelated, transient partners in home (such as mother’s boyfriend who is not the father to children)
  • Young age, low education, single parenthood, poverty, large number of dependent children
  • Thoughts or emotions that support or justify child maltreatment (such as the belief that a child is misbehaving intentionally or is out to get the parent, or belief in using extreme corporal punishment)

Family Factors

  • Social isolation
  • Domestic abuse (regardless of whether or not the children are being physically abused)
  • Unemployment
  • Homelessness
  • Failure to ensure safety or basic needs of dependent children
  • Emotional climate (such as parenting stress, poor parent-child relations or negative interactions between parent and child)

Community Characteristics

  • Violence and crime
  • Poverty
  • Unemployment
  • Insecure housing
  • Lack of recreational resources (such as parks, sidewalks, safe child and family activities)
  • Lack of accessibility to affordable food, medical care, health insurance, adequate childcare or social services
  • Lack of social capital among neighbors and community members

Societal and Cultural Factors

Lack of policy and resources to support families

Lack of emphasis on the well-being and rights of children

Racism or discrimination

Social disapproval

Punitive versus rehabilitative focus

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