Safe, stable, and nurturing relationships between children and adults are a buffer against maltreatment and other adverse exposures occurring during childhood that compromise long-term health.
Unfortunately, not all children are exposed to these positive relationships. Child maltreatment is a significant public health problem in the United States. In 2009, Child Protective Services confirmed more than 700,000 children were abused or neglected. These confirmed cases, however, represent only a fraction of the true magnitude of the problem. Most cases are not reported and child maltreatment remains a largely hidden problem. Some studies estimate that one in 8 U.S. children experience some form of child maltreatment.
There is overwhelming scientific evidence that child maltreatment can lead to a broad range of physical and emotional health problems. Short-term physical injuries include cuts, bruises, burns, and broken bones. Abuse can also lead to permanent disabilities including visual, motor, and cognitive impairments. Prolonged maltreatment causes extreme or “toxic” stress that can disrupt early brain development and impair the functioning of the nervous and immune systems, leaving children vulnerable to chronic diseases later in life. For example, maltreatment has been associated with heart, lung, and liver disease in adulthood.
Not all injuries that result from child maltreatment are visible. Abuse and neglect can have a lasting emotional impact as well. Victims may suffer from anxiety or depression. They may be wary, distrustful of others, and have difficulty establishing relationships. Some even think about or attempt suicide.
Safe, Stable and Nurturing Relationships
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention works to stop maltreatment, including abuse and neglect, before it initially occurs. In doing this, CDC promotes the development of safe, stable, and nurturing relationships between children and their parents or caregivers. Children’s experiences are defined through their relationships with parents, teachers, and other caregivers. Healthy relationships act as a buffer against adverse childhood experiences. They are necessary to ensure the long-term physical and emotional well-being of children.