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The University of Alabama

UA Matters: What to Know About Child Abuse, Neglect

Tricia Witte

Dr. Tricia Witte

Child maltreatment is a serious issue in Alabama and across the United States.

Alabama defines child abuse as the following: “harm or threatened harm to a child’s health or welfare which can occur through nonaccidental physical or mental injury; sexual abuse or attempted sexual abuse; sexual exploitation or attempted sexual exploitation.”

Child neglect is the most common form of child maltreatment, which involves “negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child, including the failure to provide adequate food, medical treatment, clothing, or shelter …”

The University of Alabama’s Dr. Tricia Witte offers valuable insight into what you should know about child abuse.

  • According to The Administration on Children, Youth and Families, in 2011 there were 3.4 million referrals to child protective services nationwide regarding alleged child abuse or neglect.
  • What many people don’t know is that perpetrators of child maltreatment are almost always family members or friends of the child victims. In fact, more than 90 percent of juvenile sexual abuse cases involve a perpetrator that is known to the victim and/or the victim’s family.
  • Certain professionals – physicians, teachers, social workers, nurses, day care workers – that come into contact with children on a regular basis are “mandated reporters,” which means they have a legal obligation to report incidents of suspected abuse or neglect.
  • The way to report child abuse or neglect is to contact a mandated reporter, the Department of Human Resources or local law enforcement. Some cases are then referred to a Child Advocacy Center, which handles child abuse cases in a way that reduces stress for the children and families. For example, instead of having the child interview at the local police office, and then the District Attorney’s office, and then the social worker’s office, the Child Advocacy Center is a family-friendly facility that has trained forensic interviewers that gather information from the child in a developmentally appropriate way. It is a warm and welcoming atmosphere that helps put children and families at ease during this difficult experience. The Tuscaloosa Child Advocacy Center is called the Tuscaloosa Children’s Center, Inc.
  • If you suspect abuse is occurring to someone you know, please take action!

Witte is an associate professor in UA’s College of Human Environmental Sciences department of human development and family studies.uamatters_logo-thumb


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UA Matters is a weekly posting that offers information and tips on consumer issues facing Alabamians. The information is available to reprint in your publication free of charge. Also, access to subject matter experts is available upon request. For more information, contact Kim Eaton at 205/348-8325 or>.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.