What is child abuse?

Child abuse is defined as doing or failing to do something that results in harm or risk of harm to a child.

This includes:

Physical Abuse – Physical injury that results in substantial harm to a child or the genuine threat of substantial harm from physical injury to the child. This could include an injury that differs from the explanation given, excluding an accident or reasonable discipline by a parent or guardian that does not expose the child to a substantial risk of harm. Physical abuse also includes the failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent an action by another person that results in substantial harm to the child.

Sexual Abuse – Sexual conduct harmful to a child’s mental, emotional or physical welfare, including conduct that constitutes the offense of indecency with a child, sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault; failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent sexual conduct harmful to a child; compelling or encouraging the child to engage in sexual conduct; and causing, permitting, encouraging, engaging in or allowing the photographing, filming or depicting of the child if the person knew or should have known that the resulting photograph, film or depiction of the child is obscene or pornographic.

Neglect – Leaving a child in a situation where the child would be exposed to a substantial risk of physical or mental harm and failing to arrange the necessary care for the child. It includes the demonstration of intent not to return by a parent or guardian of the child.

Emotional Abuse – Inflicting mental or emotional injury to a child and/or causing or permitting the child to be in a situation in which the child sustains a mental or emotional injury that results in an observable and material impairment of the child’s growth, development or psychological functioning.


  • There were 2,172 confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect in Travis County in FY 2017.1
  • In 2020, 251 children died due to abuse and neglect in Texas.
  • Over half of U.S. children are exposed to at least one form of violence annually.2

Warning signs:

Physical Abuse: Any injury (bruise, burn, fracture, abdominal or head injury) that cannot be explained

Sexual Abuse: Fearful behavior (nightmares, depression, unusual fears, attempts to run away); abdominal pain, bedwetting, urinary tract infection, genital pain or bleeding, sexually transmitted disease; extreme sexual behavior that seems inappropriate for the child’s age

Emotional Abuse: Sudden change in self-confidence; headaches or stomachaches with no medical cause; abnormal fears, increased nightmares or attempts to run away

Emotional Neglect: Failure to gain weight (especially in infants), desperately affectionate behavior, voracious appetite and stealing food

If you are worried about the safety of a child, you can learn more about how SAFE can help.


(Source: Texas Department of Family & Protective Services, FY 2017 data, http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/About_DFPS/Data_Book/Child_Protective_Services/Investigations/Victims.asp.)    
(Source: David Finkelhor, et. al. “Children’s Exposure to Violence, Crime, and Abuse: An Update”. September 2015. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. https://www.ojjdp.gov/pubs/248547.pdf.).