Child Abuse

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and thousands of children suffer abuse every day of the year. It is important to be vigilant and proactive when abuse is suspected or known, but never be afraid to report it. We can all work together to help children who experience abuse. Although every child deserves a chance to grow up, learn and feel love, we must make it our goal to prevent child abuse every day.

Everyone can play a role in reducing the risk of harm to children by knowing the signs of child abuse and neglect, by committing to reporting alleged abuse, and by supporting parents who are going through particularly stressful times. We can all do our part to keep our children safe and protected by learning more about what child abuse or neglect is, understanding signs that children may be at risk, and knowing how to report suspected abuse. But we can also take responsibility for recognizing and responding to suspicions of child abuse, “the website for National Child Abuse Prevention Month says.

Do you know the signs of child abuse, including physical, mental, emotional, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect? Learn more about how to identify, prevent and help abused children, and learn more about the National Child Abuse Prevention Month Program and how to recognize and prevent abuse or help an abused child.

Remember, a sign alone does not necessarily mean that a child has been abused or neglected. If you see any of these signs in your child, report any suspicion of abuse or neglect immediately to the Child Abuse Prevention Program at 1-800-222-4477.

Children who report abuse should always be taken seriously and all suspected cases of child abuse must be reported. Reporters should behave in the same way when reporting suspected emotional abuse as they do when reporting physical abuse or sexual abuse and neglect.

To protect your child from child abuse or neglect, you must be able to distinguish between accident and abuse.

Not every sign of injury or illness means your child is being abused, but sometimes there are obvious physical signs of sexual abuse and warrant deeper investigation. Your child will need to be examined by a doctor to determine whether he or she has been abused.

If you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected, or if you think that they may die of abuse, report your knowledge to your district social services department. If you are unsure whether markings are a sign of child abuse, it is best to report it as soon as possible after you have heard about it.

Look for the following signs of child abuse in your home, school, workplace or other public places: lack of food, water, clothing, bedding, toys, etc.

These risk factors may or may not be a direct cause, but they are characteristics associated with child abuse and neglect and are merely warning signs that require investigation. Sexual abuse can have serious negative effects, ranging from physical injury to emotional destruction. The 17 indicators of sexual abuse in Field 5 indicate that these signals will set off an alarm and will also be warning signals that do not mean that your child is being abused. If you suspect that children are being abused but are not sure, look for clusters of the following physical and behavioral signs.

The signs that your child is being abused may vary depending on the type of abuse. Some children are physically abused, but sexually abused children may also have been neglected, and the signs of child abuse vary.

Ignoring your child’s needs, putting them in unsupervised and dangerous situations, exposing them to sexual situations and making them feel worthless and stupid are also forms of child abuse and neglect. Some signs of abuse can be obvious, for example a sign of a belt appearing on the child’s back gives you the first indication that you suspect child abuse. Unfortunately, violent physical abuse such as physical assault can leave deep and lasting scars on children and can be traumatizing. Not all signs of child abuse are so obvious, because some physical abuse is shocking because of the marks they leave, but some of these signs can also cause emotional distress.

The different types of Child Abuse

Physical abuse

Physical child abuse occurs when a child is purposely physically injured or put at risk of harm by another person.

Sexual abuse

Sexual child abuse is any sexual activity with a child, such as fondling, oral-genital contact, intercourse, exploitation or exposure to child pornography.

Emotional abuse

Emotional child abuse means injuring a child’s self-esteem or emotional well-being. It includes verbal and emotional assault — such as continually belittling or berating a child — as well as isolating, ignoring or rejecting a child.

Medical abuse

Medical child abuse occurs when someone gives false information about illness in a child that requires medical attention, putting the child at risk of injury and unnecessary medical care.


Child neglect is failure to provide adequate food, shelter, affection, supervision, education, or dental or medical care.


A child who’s being abused may feel guilty, ashamed or confused. He or she may be afraid to tell anyone about the abuse, especially if the abuser is a parent, other relative or family friend. That’s why it’s vital to watch for red flags, such as:

  • Withdrawal from friends or usual activities
  • Changes in behavior — such as aggression, anger, hostility or hyperactivity — or changes in school performance
  • Depression, anxiety or unusual fears, or a sudden loss of self-confidence
  • An apparent lack of supervision
  • Frequent absences from school
  • Reluctance to leave school activities, as if he or she doesn’t want to go home
  • Attempts at running away
  • Rebellious or defiant behavior
  • Self-harm or attempts at suicide

Specific signs and symptoms depend on the type of abuse and can vary. Keep in mind that warning signs are just that — warning signs. The presence of warning signs doesn’t necessarily mean that a child is being abused.

  • Physical abuse signs and symptoms
  • Unexplained injuries, such as bruises, fractures or burns
  • Injuries that don’t match the given explanation
  • Sexual abuse signs and symptoms
  • Sexual behavior or knowledge that’s inappropriate for the child’s age
  • Pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection
  • Blood in the child’s underwear
  • Statements that he or she was sexually abused
  • Inappropriate sexual contact with other children
  • Emotional abuse signs and symptoms
  • Delayed or inappropriate emotional development
  • Loss of self-confidence or self-esteem
  • Social withdrawal or a loss of interest or enthusiasm
  • Depression
  • Avoidance of certain situations, such as refusing to go to school or ride the bus
  • Desperately seeks affection
  • A decrease in school performance or loss of interest in school
  • Loss of previously acquired developmental skills
  • Neglect signs and symptoms
  • Poor growth or weight gain or being overweight
  • Poor hygiene
  • Lack of clothing or supplies to meet physical needs
  • Taking food or money without permission
  • Hiding food for later
  • Poor record of school attendance
  • Lack of appropriate attention for medical, dental or psychological problems or lack of necessary follow-up care
  • Parental behavior
  • Sometimes a parent’s demeanor or behavior sends red flags about child abuse. Warning signs include a parent who:
  • Shows little concern for the child
  • Appears unable to recognize physical or emotional distress in the child
  • Blames the child for the problems
  • Consistently belittles or berates the child, and describes the child with negative terms, such as “worthless” or “evil”
  • Expects the child to provide him or her with attention and care and seems jealous of other family members getting attention from the child
  • Uses harsh physical discipline
  • Demands an inappropriate level of physical or academic performance
  • Severely limits the child’s contact with others
  • Offers conflicting or unconvincing explanations for a child’s injuries or no explanation at all