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Signs of Child Abuse

The people on the front lines of recognizing and reporting child abuse are called mandated reporters. These are people who generally come into contact with children as part of their work. Teachers, doctors, nurses, and children's residential workers are all mandated reporters. If in the course of their work they discover the signs of child abuse or if a child reports being abused, mandated reporters must make a report to child protective services---no questions asked. The mandated reporter simply tells what has been observed or told to him and leaves the investigation of the abuse to men and women who are trained to do such investigations. 


Fortunately, most child abuse is observed and reported by mandated reporters; however, there are times when ordinary citizens like you may be the first or only ones to see the abuse and report it. Abuse could occur with a neighbor's child or even with someone in your own family. It's important that you know the signs so you can recognize them.


Here are some signs that would be observed in general if a child is being abused or neglected. While they might not all be signs of abuse or neglect, it is important to pay attention to other behaviors that may seem unusual or concerning.

  • Sudden changes in behavior or school performance

  • Has not gotten help for physical or medical issues the parents are aware of

  • Is distracted from learning or has difficulty 

  •    concentrating

  • Appears to always be watchful as though preparing for something bad to happen

  • Lacks adult supervision

  • Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn

  • Comes early, stays late, does not want to go home

  • Does not want to be around a particular person.

The parent my also show signs that could indicate his or her child is being abused: 

  • 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

  • See his or her child as entirely bad, worthless, or burdensome

  • Looks to the child for care, attention and satisfaction of the parent's emotional needs

  • Shows little concern for the child.

The parent and child may show signs that are apparent in their relationship. For example:

  • Rarely touch or look at each other

  • Consider their relationship entirely negative

  • State that they do not like each other.

Signs of specific types of abuse may be more apparent. If you have observed the following you may want to consider that child has been physically abused:

  • Has unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones or black eyes

  • Has fading bruises or other marks

  • Seems afraid of parents and doesn't want to go home

  • Shrinks at the approach of adults.

Signs of neglect may include:

  • Is frequently absent from school

  • Begs or steals food or money

  • Is not getting basic and necessary medical care

  • Is consistently dirty and has body odor

  • Does not have sufficient clothing for bad weather

Signs of sexual abuse may include:

  • Has difficulty walking or sitting

  • Suddenly refuses to change for gym or to participate in physical activities

  • Reports nightmares or bed wetting

  • Experiences a sudden change in appetite

  • Has a bizarre, sophisticated, or unusual sexual knowledge or behavior

  • Becomes pregnant or contracts a venereal disease, particularly if under 14

  • Attaches very quickly to strangers or new adults.

Any of the above signs alone may not indicate child abuse, but a pattern of multiple signs may give a stronger indication. 



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