Tips for health care professionals recognizing child abuse and neglect

Health care providers are in a unique position to assist in the prevention of child abuse and neglect. These professionals have regular access to children and families by providing routine appointments, immunizations and interventions to common illnesses.

Clues in the doctor or nurse’s office that may be signs of abuse or neglect


  • Frequent complaints of pain without injury. This may be an attempt to garner help without directly betraying parents.
  • Lack of necessary or appropriate medical attention.For example, if you know a child is asthmatic but has no prescription medication or is using an inappropriate drugstore remedy, the child may be medically neglected.
  • A child who is constantly tired may reflect a lack of routine or neglect at home.
  • If the child has severe welts or bruises, marks on the face or above the shoulders, difficulty sitting or walking or urinary tract infections, potential physical or sexual abuse should be reported.

Referrals to assist in prevention

Primary care providers emphasize the prevention of disease and the promotion of health and well-being. With this foundation, they have a natural role in the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Activities that promote the health of children and their parents and assist in prevention include:

  • Prenatal health care that improves pregnancy outcomes and health among new mothers and infants
  • Early childhood health care that supports normal development and the health of young children
  • Family-centered birthing and perinatal coaching that strengths early attachment between parents and their children
  • Home health visitation that provides support, education, and community links for new parents
  • Support programs that assist parents of children with special health and developmental problems