Recognizing Abuse & Neglect

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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, childcare 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.

· 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

· 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

· 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

· 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

· 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

· 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

Source: Innocence Lost Working Group, 2010

· History of emotional, sexual, or other physical abuse
· Signs of current physical abuse and/or sexually transmitted diseases
· History of running away or current status as a runaway
· Inexplicable appearance of expensive gifts, clothing, cell phones, tattoos, or other costly items
· Presence of an older boyfriend or girlfriend
· Drug addiction
· Withdrawal or lack of interest in previous activities
· Gang involvement


· No freedom to leave or come and go as desired
· No or very little pay, or payment only through tips
· Excessive and/or unusual work hours
· No breaks at work
· A large debt that cannot be paid off
· Recruitment through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of the work
· High security measures in the work and/or living locations
· Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or lost sense of time

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