Child Abuse (Causes)

Risk Factors

A combination of individual, relational, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of child maltreatment and abuse. Although children are not responsible for the harm inflicted upon them, certain individual characteristics have been found to increase their risk of being maltreated. Risk factors are contributing factors—not direct causes.

Examples of risk factors:

  • Disabilities or mental retardation in children that may increase caregiver burden
  • Social isolation of families
  • Parents' lack of understanding of children's needs and child development
  • Parents' history of domestic abuse
  • Poverty and other socioeconomic disadvantages, such as unemployment
  • Family disorganization, dissolution, and violence, including intimate partner violence
  • Lack of family cohesion
  • Substance abuse in family
  • Young, single nonbiological parents
  • Poor parent-child relationships and negative interactions
  • Parental thoughts and emotions supporting maltreatment behaviors
  • Parental stress and distress, including depression or other mental health conditions
  • Community violence
Child Abuse. Last reviewed 12/31/1969
  • American Psychiatric Association
  • National Library of Medicine
  • Administration for Children and Families
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • National Institutes of Health