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Child abuse is the physical, sexual or emotional maltreatment or neglect of a child or children. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department for Children and Families (DCF) define child maltreatment as any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a parent or other caregiver that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child. Child abuse can occur in a child's home, or in the organizations, schools or communities the child interacts with. There are four major categories of child abuse: neglect, physical abuse, psychological or emotional abuse, and sexual abuse.
In Western countries, preventing child abuse is considered a high priority, and detailed laws and policies exist to address this issue. Different jurisdictions have developed their own definitions of what constitutes child abuse for the purposes of removing a child from his/her family and/or prosecuting a criminal charge. According to the Journal of Child Abuse and Neglect, child abuse is "any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm".
Douglas J. Besharov, the first Director of the U.S. Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, states "the existing laws are often vague and overly broad" and there is a "lack of consensus among professionals and Child Protective Services (CPS) personnel about what the terms abuse and neglect mean". Susan Orr, former head of the United States Children's Bureau U.S. Department of Health and Services Administration for Children and Families, 2001–2007, states that "much that is now defined as child abuse and neglect does not merit governmental interference".
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