Child abuse can take a variety of different forms but all are wrong and none of them are the child's fault. There are two broad categories: abuse and neglect. Neglecting a child is failing to provide for his or her needs; whether emotional; medical; educational or physical whereas abuse can be physical; sexual or emotional. Each state has statutes which provide detailed definitions for abuse, neglect and the perpetrators of that abuse or neglect. In each state there is a Child Protective Service (which may be known by another name in your state) that is given power by federal law to respond to and protect children from abuse and neglect. Once an allegation of child abuse or neglect has been reported the CPS will respond to it within a certain timescale, as provided by their own policy.
In terms of neglect a child can be abandoned, poorly fed, left alone, not given adequate emotional, medical or educational attention. However not all instances of these events prove that the child is neglected. In some states, pregnant women who use illegal drugs can also be defined as abusive or neglectful. Additionally, if a parent or guardian is under the influence of drugs or alcohol to such an extent that they are unable to care for the child, this can also be defined as neglectful behavior.
Physical abuse is any physical assault that is non-accidental, regardless of whether or not it is intended to hurt the child. The abuse element (as opposed to simply an assault of a child) arises because a person is in a position of trust with the child, in other words, is responsible in whole or in part for the care or welfare of that child. However, ‘reasonable' physical discipline that does not cause injury is not considered abuse. Emotional abuse can include withholding love, criticism and rejection. Sexual abuse includes inappropriate touching, penetration, sodomy and taking indecent photographs.
It can be very difficult to identify child abuse, but here are some common signs; the child may be withdrawn; change behavior suddenly or not want to go home; be passive, compliant or on edge; or may not seem to be cared for (e.g. medical treatment not sought after the parent has been made aware of the need for it.) A parent may show signs of abusing or neglecting their child by putting unrealistic academic pressure on the child, blaming the child for things that aren't their fault, and not showing care or concern for the child or their wellbeing. Together, the parent and child may be distant, hardly ever touch each other or seem not to engage with each other. They may each openly admit to not liking the other. However, the way that the parents and children act varies enormously from case to case.