Watching for signs of neglect and abuse

Children will not always tell you that neglect or abuse is occurring.  They may be scared, embarrassed, or unsure of what is happening to them.  The fact remains, however, that more than one in four adults has experienced some form of abuse as a child.  

NEGLECT is an ongoing pattern of failing to provide for a child’s basic needs.  Possible signs may include:

  • Obvious malnourishment and hunger; stealing or begging for food
  • Lack of personal cleanliness; torn and/or dirty clothing
  • Abandonment; child is unattended for long periods of time
  • Reports that no caretaker is at home or consistent lack of supervision
  • Unattended medical needs:  glasses, dental care or other health issues needing medical attention 
  • Frequent tardiness or absences from school

EMOTIONAL ABUSE is any attitude, behavior, or failure to act that interferes with a child’s mental health or social development.  Its symptoms might include:

  • Over compliance and/or low self-esteem
  • Severe depression, anxiety, or aggression
  • Difficulty making friends or doing things with other children
  • Lagging in physical, emotional, and intellectual development
  • A caregiver who belittles the child, withholds love and seems unconcerned about the child’s problems

SEXUAL ABUSE of a child is any sexual act between an adult and a child.  Sexual touching between children can also be sexual abuse when there is a significant size, developmental, or age difference.  Its symptoms might include:

  • Inappropriate interest in or knowledge of sexual acts
  • Extreme fear of being alone with adults of a certain sex or a particular person
  • Knowledge of sexual relations beyond what is expected of a child’s age
  • Sexual victimization of other children
  • Evidence of injury to the genital area
  • Difficulty in sitting or walking
  • Threatened by physical contact and/or closeness

PHYSICAL ABUSE is an injury resulting from physical aggression.  An injury may be the result of hitting, choking, kicking, pinching, biting, hair-pulling, burning or other severe physical punishment.

  • Frequent injuries, such as bruises, cuts, black eyes or burns without adequate explanations
  • Frequent complaints of pain without obvious injury; complaints of soreness or moving uncomfortably
  • Burns or bruises in unusual patterns that may indicate the use of an instrument or human bite; cigarette burns on any part of the body
  • Lack of reaction to pain
  • Passive, withdrawn and emotionless behavior
  • Fear of going home or seeing specific persons
  • Injuries that appear after a child has not been seen for several days
  • Unreasonable clothing that may hide injuries to arms or legs
  • Bizarre explanation of injuries; child’s injury is too severe to have been caused by the incident described