Signs of Abuse and Neglect

The warning signs of child abuse and neglect can be different from child to child, and sometimes there may not be visible signs. If you suspect a child is being abused, please call the 24-hour child abuse hotline (1-888-SOS-CHILD) or local law enforcement (What Must I Do?).  The following list of signs might help identify child abuse, but keep in mind that it is not uncommon for children to experience more than one type of abuse.

Child neglect

  • Small for age
  • Without adequate supervision or in the supervision of many different adults or children
  • Untreated illnesses or injuries
  • Lack of medical or dental care
  • Sleepy or lethargic
  • Begging or stealing food
  • Poor school attendance and tardiness
  • Reports being left alone
  • Assumes adult or parenting responsibilities
  • Unkempt, dirty clothes that may be inappropriate for the climate or too small
  • Self-soothing behaviors such as thumb sucking and rocking
  • Learning problems, speech delays
  • Self-destructive behaviors
  • Difficulty making friends


Physical abuse

  • Unexplained bruises (sometimes in the shape of an object)
  • Bruising in various stages of healing
  • Unexplained injuries or difficult to believe explanations for injuries
  • Reports injuries received by a parent or caregiver
  • Has difficulty sitting, complains of soreness, or moves uncomfortably
  • Wears clothing to cover body
  • Reports mistreatment of animals in the home
  • Withdrawn, aggressive or self-destructive behavior
  • Is bullied or is a bully
  • Is overly compliant, an overachiever, or overly responsible
  • Seems frightened of parents or caregivers and afraid of being at home
  • Is hyper alert – as though waiting for something bad to happen
  • Has difficulty learning
  • Has behavior changes just prior to going home from school or when picked up
  • Cringes or flinches when adults get close


Sexual abuse

  • Discloses sexual abuse
  • Has difficulty walking or sitting
  • Has frequent somatic complaints such as stomach ache or headache, sore throat
  • Negative change in appearance
  • Has frequent urinary or yeast infections not explained by medical condition or treatment
  • Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance
  • Excessive masturbation in young children
    • Has sophisticated knowledge or interest in sexual activity
    • Perpetrates sexual activity with another child
  • Avoids a specific person without an obvious reason
  • Does not want to go home
  • Low self-esteem
  • Shows unusual signs of anxiety
  • Shows signs of guilt
  • Exhibits signs of depression
  • Becomes angry and hostile


Emotional abuse

  • Has speech delays
  • Exhibits frequent somatic complaints such as stomach aches or headaches
  • Is fearful or anxious about doing something wrong or making a mistake
  • Is excessively withdrawn
  • Does not play as other children do
    • Speaks negatively about his/her self
    • Does not appear to be attached to the parent or caregiver
  • Displays extremes in behavior, being overly compliant one minute and demanding the next
    • Is extremely passive or aggressive
    • Has delayed emotional development, exhibited by crying, whining, temper tantrums, hitting, biting, etc.
  • Engages in self-soothing behaviors, thumb sucking, rocking, etc.,
    • Has inappropriate adult behaviors
    • Comes to school early, stays late, and does not want to go home
    • Has learning problems
    • Appears anti-social and or destructive
    • Is bullied or is a bully
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