Defining Child Abuse And Neglect

There are many ways to think about – or to define – child abuse and neglect (sometimes called ‘child maltreatment’). Some definitions of child abuse, for example, suggest that a child has been physically abused only when the physical act results in an injury. Other definitions suggest that if a behavior creates a high risk for an injury, but doesn’t actually injure the child, it is still abuse if it frightened the child.

Agreeing on a definition of child abuse and neglect is important since we first need to define what we mean by ‘child abuse and neglect’ to know what it is we are reducing. With this in mind, 90by30 formed a work group who determined the following definition for child abuse and neglect. The 90by30 definition mostly came from blending and adapting definitions from the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) and those used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


Any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a person having temporary or long-term care of a child that, other than by accidental means, results in substantial harm or significant risk of substantial harm to a child.

Acts of omission(neglect):

  1. Failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, access to education, and/or emotional support for a child.
  2. Failure to adequately supervise or arrange for safe supervision of a child.

Acts of commission (abuse):

  1. Physical abuse or threat of physical abuse
  2. Sexual abuse or sexual exploitation
  3. Psychological abuse including the use of isolation, terror, or exposure to violent environments (this includes seeing or hearing violence between adult caregivers, often called ‘intimate partner violence’ or ‘domestic violence’)