Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting

Emotional Abuse

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Emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior that impairs a student’s emotional development or sense of self-worth. This may include constant criticism, threats, or rejection, as well as withholding love, support, or guidance. Emotional abuse is often difficult to prove and, therefore, child protective services may not be able to intervene without evidence of harm or mental injury to the student. Emotional abuse is almost always present when other forms are identified.


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Examples of Emotional Abuse

  • Ignoring. Either physically or psychologically, the parent or caregiver is not present to respond to the student. He or she may not look at the student and may not call the student by name.
  • Rejecting. This is an active refusal to respond to a student’s needs (e.g., refusing to touch a student, denying the needs of a student, ridiculing a student).
  • Isolating. The parent or caregiver consistently prevents the student from having normal social interactions with peers, family members and adults. This also may include confining the student or limiting the student’s freedom of movement.
  • Exploiting or corrupting. In this kind of abuse, a student is taught, encouraged or forced to develop inappropriate or illegal behaviors. It may involve self-destructive or antisocial acts of the parent or caregiver, such as teaching a student how to steal or forcing a student into prostitution.
  • Verbally assaulting. This involves constantly belittling, shaming, ridiculing or verbally threatening the student.
  • Terrorizing. Here, the parent or caregiver threatens or bullies the student and creates a climate of fear for the student. Terrorizing can include placing the student or the student’s loved one (such as a sibling, pet or toy) in a dangerous or chaotic situation, or placing rigid or unrealistic expectations on the student with threats of harm if they are not met.
  • Neglecting the student. This abuse may include educational neglect, where a parent or caregiver fails or refuses to provide the student with necessary educational services; mental health neglect, where the parent or caregiver denies or ignores a student’s need for treatment for psychological problems; or medical neglect, where a parent or caregiver denies or ignores a student’s need for treatment for medical problems.

Identifying and Preventing Emotional Abuse Among Students

Some students may experience emotional abuse only, without ever experiencing another form of abuse. However, emotional abuse typically is associated with and results from other types of abuse and neglect, which makes it a significant risk factor in all student abuse and neglect cases. Brassard, Germain, and Hart (1987, as cited in Pecora et al., 2000) assert that emotional abuse is “inherent in all forms of student maltreatment.”

Emotional abuse that exists independently of other forms of abuse is the most difficult form of child abuse to identify and stop. This is because child protective services must have demonstrable evidence that harm to a student has been done before they can intervene. And, since emotional abuse doesn’t result in physical evidence such as bruising or malnutrition, it can be very hard to diagnose.

Information provided by: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Student Welfare Information Gateway, the American Humane Association and Prevent Child Abuse of America.


This website is for informational purposes only and is not meant to constitute legal advice.


School Social Work Department
Cobb County School District
514 Glover Street
Marietta, GA 30060
Phone: 678-581-6811
Fax: 770-590-4556


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