It is important to recognize high-risk situations and the signs and symptoms of child maltreatment.

If you suspect a child is being harmed, reporting those suspicions may protect him or her and get help for the family. Any concerned person can report suspicions of child abuse or neglect. Reporting your concerns is not making an accusation, rather, it is a request for an investigation and assessment to determine if help is needed.

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway – the federal information service of the Children's Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – the following signs may signal the presence of the four major types of child maltreatment: physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse and emotional abuse.

Signs exhibited by the child

  • 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 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  • Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn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
  • Is reluctant to be around a particular person
  • Discloses maltreatment

Signs exhibited by the parent

  • Denies the existence of – or blames the child for – the child’s problems in school or at home
  • Asks teachers or other caregivers 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 the parent’s emotional needs
  • Shows little concern for the child

Signs of physical abuse

Consider the possibility of physical abuse when the child:

  • Has unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones, or black eyes
  • Has fading bruises or other marks noticeable after an absence from school
  • Seems frightened of the parents and protests or cries when it is time to go home
  • Shrinks at the approach of adults
  • Reports injury by a parent or another adult caregiver
  • Abuses animals or pets

Consider the possibility of physical abuse when the parent or other adult caregiver:

  • Offers conflicting, unconvincing, or no explanation for the child’s injury, or provides an explanation that is not consistent with the 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
  • Has a history of abusing animals or pets

Signs of neglect

Consider the possibility of neglect when the parent or other adult caregiver:

  • Appears to be indifferent to the child
  • Seems apa/thetic or depressed
  • Behaves irrationally or in a bizarre manner
  • Is abusing alcohol or other drugs

Consider the possibility of neglect when the child:

  • Is frequently absent from school
  • Begs or steals food or money
  • Lacks needed medical or dental care, immunizations, or glasses
  • Is consistently dirty and has severe body odor
  • Lacks sufficient clothing for the weather
  • Abuses alcohol or other drugs
  • States that there is no one at home to provide care

Signs of sexual abuse

Consider the possibility of sexual abuse when the parent or other adult caregiver:

  • 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

Consider the possibility of sexual abuse when the child:

  • Has difficulty walking or sitting
  • Suddenly refuses to change for gym or to participate in physical activities
  • Reports nightmares or bedwetting
  • 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
  • Runs away
  • Reports sexual abuse by a parent or another adult caregiver
  • Attaches very quickly to strangers or new adults in their environment

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