Signs of Abuse & Neglect

Abuse sometimes can be evident or obvious, however included in the statutory definitions of abuse and neglect is the concept “genuine threat” or sometimes referred to as ‘risk of harm’ which is not always obvious.

Risk is important to note in a child’s life, as it can serve as an indicator for us to intervene or help a child before actual harm occurs.

Signs of Abuse and Neglect: The following are intended to help educate on commonly observed behaviors and signs in children who have experienced abuse and neglect.

Abused children might seem:

  • Nervous around adults or afraid of certain adults
  • Might display unusual or inappropriate boundaries with strangers or new people (clingy with new people)
  • Reluctant to go home
  • Very passive and withdrawn or aggressive and disruptive
  • Often tired or listless
  • Might complain of nightmares or not sleeping well
  • Unusually Fearful and anxious

Signs of Neglect

  • Family has not seen child for long periods of time
  • Smells of urine often
  • Begging for food, stealing food
  • Lacking needed medical or dental care
  • Being frequently dirty
  • Unexplainable developmental delays (child is four and not talking)
  • Child’s appearance is remarkably different compared to his or her siblings (dirty, torn or older clothing, disheveled) (scapegoating)

Signs of Physical Abuse

  • Unexplained and unusual locations for bruises, gouge marks, bite marks, and other injuries
  • Toddler who never seems to cry in response to pain
  • Family has not seen child for long periods of time
  • Apparent fear of a parent or caretaker
  • Faded bruises or healing injuries after missing long periods of school

Signs of Sexual Abuse

  • Unexplainable and unusual rashes to genital area
  • Difficulty urinating, walking, sitting or other indications of injury in the genital area
  • Sexual knowledge or behavior beyond what is normal for the child’s age (remember to education yourself on exploration stage for young children)
  • Inappropriate descriptions of touching and language used by child
  • Running away from home

Signs of Emotional Abuse

  • Acting overly mature or immature for the child’s age (child may be 9 years old, but acts more like a 5 year old)
  • Statements of feeling like a failure or feeling alone
  • Struggles bonding or forming relationships
  • Attempted suicide or frequently talks about death
  • Lack of bond with parent or caregiver

For more information on Abuse and Neglect you may check out the Department of Family and Protective Services, “Recognizing Abuse and Neglect”