The first step in helping abused or neglected children is learning to recognize the signs of child abuse and neglect. The presence of a single sign does not prove child abuse is occurring in a family; however, when these signs appear repeatedly, or in combination you should take a closer look at the situation and consider the possibility of child abuse.  Always report, if you suspect that a child has been abused.  This information has been collected through decades of experience in working with child victims of abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, exploitation and abandonment.  Dan Hillman, Executive Director, Child Enrichment, Inc.



Always report if you suspect child abuse:

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IMPORTANT: If there is an immediate or urgent danger, always call 911

Recognizing Child Abuse

The following signs may signal the presence of child abuse or neglect:

The Child The Parent or Other Adult Caregiver
-Reports being hurt, hit, kicked, or beaten by a parent, caretaker, or other adult.
-Shows sudden changes in behavior, or school performance.
-Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention.
-Has learning problems (or difficulty concentrating) that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes.
-Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen.
-Lacks adult supervision.
-Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn.
-Comes to school, or other activities early, stays late, and does not want to go home.
-Shows little concern for the child - denies the existence of or blames the child for the child’s problems in school or at home.
-Asks teachers, or other caretakers to use harsh physical discipline if the child misbehaves.
-Sees the child as entirely bad, worthless or burdensome.
-Demands a level of physical or academic performance the child cannot achieve.
-Looks primarily to the child for care, attention and satisfaction of emotional needs.
-The Parent and Child rarely touch or look at each other.
-Consider their relationship as entirely negative.
-State that they do not like each other, or that they hate each other.


Types of Abuse

The following are some signs often associated with particular types of child abuse and neglect: physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. It is important to note, however, these types of abuse are more typically found in combination than alone. A physically abused child, for example, is often emotionally abused as well, and a sexually abused child also may be neglected.


Signs of Physical Abuse

Consider the possibility of physical abuse when:

The Child The Parent or Other Adult Caregiver
-Reports injury by a parent, or another adult caregiver.
-Has unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones, or black eyes.
-Has new and fading bruises, or other noticeable marks or scars.
-Exhibits a change in demeanor after an absence from school.
-Seems frightened of the parents and protests, or cries when it is time to go home.
-Shrinks, cowers, or becomes anxious at the approach of adults.
-Offers conflicting, unconvincing, or no explanation for the child’s 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.


Signs of Neglect

Consider the possibility of neglect when:

The Child The Parent or Other Adult Caregiver
-States that there is no one at home to provide care and supervision.
-Is frequently absent from school.
-Begs or steals food or money.
-Lacks needed medical or dental care, immunizations, or eye glasses.
-Is consistently dirty and has severe body odor.
-Lacks sufficient clothing for the weather.
-Abuses alcohol, or other drugs.
-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 The Parent or Other Adult Caregiver
-Reports sexual abuse by a parent, caregiver, or another adult.
-Has difficulty walking or sitting.
-Suddenly refuses to change for gym, or to participate in physical activities.
-Reports nightmares or bed wetting.
-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 or younger.
-Runs away.
-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.


Signs of Emotional Maltreatment

Consider the possibility of emotional maltreatment when:

The Child The Parent or Other Adult Caregiver
-Shows extremes in behavior, such as overly compliant or demanding behavior, extreme passivity, or aggression.
-Is either inappropriately adult like (parenting other children, for example), or inappropriately infantile like (frequently rocking, or head-banging, in fetal position, for example).
-Is delayed in physical or emotional development.
-Has attempted suicide.
-Reports a lack of attachment to the parent.
-Constantly blames, belittles, or berates the child.
-Is unconcerned about the child and refuses to consider offers of help for the child’s problems.
-Overtly rejects the child.
-Yells often at, and or swears at the child.