PHYSICAL ABUSE is potentially serious. It starts, at one end of the continuum, with minor injuries or bruising, and ends at the other with injuries that can prove fatal. Physical abuse is thought to be responsible for the death of approximately 200 children a year in the UK. Its dangers relate closely to age: the younger the child the more at risk they are from physical harm. A baby who has been shaken, for example, can suffer severe and irreversible damage (Shaken Baby Syndrome); even a small bruise in an infant may be a predictor of more severe or possibly fatal abuse.
Most societies condone the use of physical chastisement to discipline children and it remains widespread across all social classes and cultures, involving children of all ages. While there is a difference between physical chastisement and physical abuse it is clear that the two are closely linked. Punishment can be abusive. Many parents who physically abuse their children often begin by disciplining them. Injury results when what they perceive as 'normal' parenting gets out of hand.
An injury that results from failure to protect or provide proper adult supervision can be physically just as damaging. Deliberately placing a child in danger can reflect ambivalent feelings, or a conscious or, indeed, unconscious urge to hurt: leaving an unsupervised toddler in a bath full of water is but one example of how parental neglect can put the child at risk of physical injury.
Be aware of the link between child abuse and domestic violence. The physical abuse of women and children frequently coexist and can begin in pregnancy; if one is present, the other should be suspected.