The World Health Organization ([WHO], 2006, p. 9) defines child abuse and neglect as:

‘All forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.’

The effects of abuse and neglect on children, teens and young people can be far-reaching and wide-ranging. Abusive behaviour can be intentional but sometimes unintentional. There is a distinction between acts of commission (abuse) and omission (neglect). When we talk of child abuse and neglect, we are referring to behaviour that presents a risk of causing physical and/or emotional harm to a child or teen. It can be engaged by parents, caregivers or any other adult or older adolescent and is outside what we consider to be normal conduct.

Different types of abuse include:

Physical Abuse – as its name suggests, this can include any form of violence, be it beating, hitting, slapping, pulling, etc. Apart from the obvious physical effects, it can also do untold psychological harm.

Verbal Abuse – this can include constant belittling, humiliation, name-calling, shaming, just to name some.

Emotional Abuse – this can occur in any type of relationship, be it romantic, familial, professional, or a friendship. Examples of the abuse can include constant belittling of you, shaming, blaming and manipulating.

Sexual Abuse – this can include inappropriate and non-consensual touching, groping, rape, molestation. In the case of minors, it can include pressuring the victim to witness sexual acts without their consent. It can be one-off or over a prolonged or sustained period of time; it can be perpetrated by a stranger, family member or even partner.

Effects of Abuse

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Disorientation
  • Trauma/PTSD
  • Dissociation
  • Shame
  • Trust issues
  • Difficulty in forming relationships

Factors influencing the effects of child abuse

The effects of abuse and neglect on children (and people in general) can be widely varying from person to person; different people can have different responses to the same type of abuse. For some, the effects may not be that adverse, however, for some, they can be debilitating and chronic.

A child’s vulnerability or resilience in response to abuse can be influenced by a variety of external factors, experiences and circumstances. When we talk about resilience, we are referring to a child’s ability to cope and thrive in the face of abuse or other harsh experiences. Individual child attributes can affect their resilience. Factors can include the support structure (or lack thereof) around them, such as their family, school environment and friendships. If these support structures aren’t strong or aren’t there at all, this increases the susceptibility of the child to more severe manifestations of abuse effects. Some of the more common factors include:

  • The age and/or developmental stage of the child when the abuse occurred; studies suggest the younger they are, the more severe the effects can be.
    However the abuse was/is; naturally the more severe it is, the more negative the effects are likely to be.
  • The type(s) of abuse, maltreatment or neglect involved. Different types can lead to different effects.
  • How the victim perceives the abuse. Some children may blame themselves or feel shame or stigma around the abuse. This will have ramifications on the outcome of the abuse.


When child abuse is discovered or reported, the first priority is to make sure that the child/teen is protected; their safety is No.1. It is then important to look at how the child/teen can be treated. This helps both the child and their guardians and should focus on preventing recurrences of abuse in the future while also mitigating and reducing the long-term effects of the abuse, be they physical, psychological or both.

Medical care
If the child is showing signs of physical abuse, immediately help them get medical attention. Their condition may require long term monitoring.

More likely than not, therapy will be required to help the child/teen cope with both the abuse itself and its long term effects. Areas in which therapy can help include:

  • Helping the child/teen boost their self-esteem
  • Helping the abuse victim to trust others again
  • Teaching them about conflict management
  • Teaching them how to cope with triggers
  • Helping the child/teen to learn more about positive relationships and behaviours

Several different types of therapy for child abuse include:

Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – in this type of therapy, a therapist works with the child to help them learn skills to cope with, and manage, trauma-related memories, triggers, thoughts and feelings.

In time, the child and parent (provided it wasn’t the parent that abused them) can be seen together in a session which can help the child tell the parent what happened.

Dyadic Parent-Child psychotherapy – in this type of therapy, the therapist works with the child and parent to help them build a stronger relationship and attachment with each other.

Trauma-Informed Art Therapy – this form of therapy can help the victim to self-regulate their reactions to traumatic experiences at an early stage. An expressive form of therapy, it can help reconnect explicit abuse or trauma-related memories with the implicit (sensory) ones. It is based on the idea that art expression is helpful in reconnecting implicit (sensory) and explicit (declarative) memories of trauma and in the treatment of PTSD.

Therapy may also be of benefit to parents, helping them to learn healthy parenting strategies and learn effective coping mechanisms. It can also help them discover the roots of their child’s abu

Places to turn for help

https://www.womensaid.ie/services/helpline.html – 24hr National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900

https://www.adaptservices.ie/ – Contact number 1800200504


https://clarehaven.ie/ – 24 Hour Helpline 065-6822435

Coping and support

If a child or teen ever tells you that they’ve been (or are being) abused, it is of the utmost importance that you take them seriously and take appropriate action.

  • Assure the child that they can tell you what happened, regardless of what the perpetrator may have threatened them with.
  • Let the child explain what happened in their own words, don’t push them or present leading questions.
  • Listen.
  • Let professionals do detailed investigating and questioning.
  • Assure the child that they have nothing to be ashamed of and that they are not responsible for what has happened to them. Reinforce the idea that it is not their fault.
  • Be there for them. Assure the child that you will be there for them and listen when they need you.
  • Report what you’ve been told. Contact Tusla, Ireland’s child and family protection agency, or the Gardaí.
  • Separate the child from the abuser, and stay present if the abuser is around.
  • Help the child get help from a Doctor if they require it.
  • If the abuse happened at school, make sure the principal and appropriate school authorities know about it.
  • Try to find additional support for the child such as therapy or a support group.
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