No one single cause has been identified that explains the occurrence of all cases of physical abuse.
The multifactorial nature of physical abuse requires a more comprehensive amalgam of models and conceptual frameworks to account for the heterogeneous set of cases classified as physical abuse.
It is impossible and inadvisable to consider physical abuse of a child as an isolated incident with one cause and one effect.
The ecological model of human development and interaction is generally regarded as an ideal conceptual framework from which to approach the complex interactions among the caregiver, child, family, social situation, and cultural values leading to the nonaccidental injury or physical abuse of the child. The ecological model sees a child functioning within a family (microsystem), the family functioning within a community (exosystem), the various communities linked together by a set of sociocultural values that influence them (macrosystem), and all of these systems operating over time (chronosystem).
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Each of these system components is interactional in nature and affects one another.
Similar events have different effects that depend on the period and circumstances in which the event occurs (eg, the child interacts and has an impact on the family, the family influences the child).
These injuries are also referred to as inflicted or nonaccidental injuries.
Some states use broad definitions that encompass a wide range of injuries; other states use more narrow definitions that include specific signs and symptoms.