Few social issues evoke extreme emotive responses, both publicly and privately, as child abuse and neglect. This is not surprising as childhood is perceived by many to be a time of innocence and nurturing. Issues surrounding family behaviour are primarily regarded as essentially private, although legislative and institutional reforms have provided for a public response to any report of child maltreatment. How successful have academics and legal professionals been in placing this item onto the political agenda? How has welfare practice been able to respond to this problem? What is the response of the criminal justice system? How have we, as a society, improved the situation of those children who are the victims of abuse and neglect? Indeed, should child abuse and neglect be considered with its own unique behavioural components, or should the focus be more concerned with the continuum of family violence and family dysfunction generally? A second Trends and Issues paper due later in 2000 will examine practical interventions and prevention activities.