Recognizing Child Abuse

Child abuse is not always obvious and many children are too young or too frightened to tell anyone what is happening to them. Children, especially younger, more vulnerable children, are often unaware that what is happening to them is abuse. Sometimes, it takes a caring adult – like a teacher, child care worker, pastor, family member or neighbor – to recognize that something is not right in the child’s life. Following is a list of physical and emotional indicators of child abuse.  Mandated Reporter Training is also available to help you recognize and report child abuse.

Indicators of Child Abuse

The following list of indicators may be used as a guide to help determine if there is a suspicion of child abuse or neglect. These indicators can also exist in situations where a child is NOT abused or neglected; they are only suggestive of abuse or neglect. The presence of any one or more of these indicators may have an entirely appropriate or unrelated explanation.

INDICATORS OF PHYSICAL ABUSE – CHILD

  • Unexplained bruises, welts, human bite marks, bald spots
  • Numerous bruises in various stages of healing
  • Marks on many surfaces of the body
  • Unexplained burns, especially cigarette or immersion burns
  • Withdrawal or aggression – behavioral extremes
  • Uncomfortable with physical contact
  • Afraid to go home
  • Dressed inappropriately for the weather
  • Cringes when approached by an adult (fears getting hit)
  • Overreacts to accidents such as spilling milk
  • Does not want to talk about home life
  • Extreme attachment to parents
  • Extreme attentiveness to needs of parents

INDICATORS OF PHYSICAL ABUSE – PARENT

  • Contradictory statements about child's injury
  • Excessive anxiety about child's behavior
  • Labels child as a “problem”
  • Says child makes up stories and that child should not be believed
  • Verbally aggressive toward child

INDICATORS OF SEXUAL ABUSE – CHILD

  • Pain or itching in genital area
  • Bruises or bleeding in external genitalia
  • Frequent urinary or yeast infections
  • Torn, stained or bloody underclothing
  • Venereal disease
  • A child's report or self-disclosure
  • Sexual knowledge beyond what is natural for a child
  • Preoccupation with their body
  • Acting out sexual behavior
  • Withdrawal, chronic depression
  • Self-devaluation and lack of confidence
  • Problems with bedtime or afraid to go to bed
  • Bedwetting – especially if it begins in a child who has been dry

INDICATORS OF SEXUAL ABUSE – PARENT

  • Poor sexual relationship between parents
  • Frequent changes of adults in household
  • Lack of supervision of child
  • Parent relates to child on adult level
  • Parent is jealous of child's relationship with others
  • Parent is overly possessive of child

INDICATORS OF NEGLECT OR PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE – CHILD

  • Unattended medical needs
  • Consistent lack of supervision
  • Persistent hunger, poor hygiene or inappropriate dress
  • Distended stomach or emaciated body
  • Delayed physical development
  • Substance abuse
  • Regularly displays fatigue or listlessness
  • Steals food or begs
  • Habit disorders (sucking, rocking, etc.)
  • Passive or aggressive behavior extremes
  • Neurotic traits such as sleep disorders or inhibition of play

INDICATORS OF NEGLECT OR PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE – PARENT

  • Disinterest in or rejection of child
  • Deserting or avoiding child
  • Threatening child, yelling, and/or screaming at child
  • Ignoring medical problems of child
  • Constant criticism of child, making negative comparison with other children
  • Embarrassing children in public or making child feel ashamed or guilty
  • Isolating child from society or normal friendships
  • Placing child in dangerous situations
  • Blaming child for situations not within child’s control
  • Failing to meet child's physical/emotional needs

Ways You Can Connect