Recognizing Signs of Abuse and Neglect

If you suspect a child is being harmed, reporting your suspicions may protect him or her and get help for the family. Any concerned person can report suspicions of child abuse or neglect. Reporting your concerns is not making an accusation; rather, it is a request for an investigation and assessment to determine if help is needed.

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Signs of Physical Abuse

Consider the possibility of physical abuse when the child:
• Has unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones, or black eyes
• Has fading bruises or other marks noticeable after an absence from school
• Seems frightened of the parents and protests or cries when it is time to go home
• Shrinks at the approach of adults
• Reports injury by a parent or another adult caregiver
• Abuses animals or pets

Consider the possibility of physical abuse when the parent or other adult caregiver:
• Offers conflicting, unconvincing, or no explanation for the child’s injury, or provides an explanation that is not consistent with the injury
• Describes the child as “evil” or in some other very negative way
• Uses harsh physical discipline with the child
• Has a history of abuse as a child
• Has a history of abusing animals or pets

Signs of Neglect

Consider the possibility of neglect when the child:
• Is frequently absent from school
• Begs or steals food or money
• Lacks needed medical or dental care, immunizations, or glasses
• Is consistently dirty and has severe body odor
• Lacks sufficient clothing for the weather
• Abuses alcohol or other drugs
• States that there is no one at home to provide care

Consider the possibility of neglect when the parent or other adult caregiver:
• Appears to be indifferent to the child
• Seems apathetic or depressed
• Behaves irrationally or in a bizarre manner
• Is abusing alcohol or other drugs

Signs of Sexual Abuse

Consider the possibility of sexual abuse when the child:
• Has difficulty walking or sitting
• Suddenly refuses to change for gym or to participate in physical activities
• Reports nightmares or bedwetting
• Experiences a sudden change in appetite
• Demonstrates bizarre, sophisticated, or unusual sexual knowledge or behavior
• Becomes pregnant or contracts a venereal disease, particularly if under age 14
• Runs away
• Reports sexual abuse by a parent or another adult caregiver
• Attaches very quickly to strangers or new adults in their environment

Consider the possibility of sexual abuse when the parent or other adult caregiver:
• Is unduly protective of the child or severely limits the child’s contact with other children, especially of the opposite sex
• Is secretive and isolated
• Is jealous or controlling with family members