Physical abuse of a child or young person is the causing of physical harm to a child or young person.
This may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning or suffocating.
Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or carer feigns the symptoms of, or deliberately causes, ill health to a child they are looking after (Fabricated or Induced Illness).
Physical abuse damages children both physically and emotionally. The longer physical abuse of a child continues, the more serious the consequences. The initial effects of physical abuse can be painful and emotionally traumatic for a child.
The long-term consequences of physical abuse may continue to impact on the child into adulthood.
The first effects of physical abuse occur during or immediately following the abuse, the child may suffer physical pain or related medical problems as a result the injuries they sustain, and in some severe cases, this can result in death.
The extent and longevity of the abuse and the age of the child when the abuse occurs, recognising very young children are at their most vulnerable, influences the long-term physical and emotional impact of the abuse.
This is due to the small physical stature, soft bone structure and developing brain of very young children. For example, neurological damage can manifest as irritability, lethargy and vomiting.
In more severe cases, the effects of physical abuse can include seizures, blindness or deafness, and developmental delay.
The emotional effects of physical abuse can be far reaching and continue long after the child or young person’s physical wounds have healed.
Numerous research studies have revealed that a number of psychological problems can develop due to physical abuse in childhood, and these include issues around emotional regulation, depression, low self-esteem, sleep issues, inability to concentrate, and difficulties making and sustaining interpersonal relationships.