Know the Signs

Every year, U.S. child protective services referrals involve 7.2 million children.

Perpetrators often convince and manipulate children to lie or be silent about their abuse, which can make it hard to recognize signs of child abuse and neglect. Children may also be scared, ashamed, guilty, or embarrassed about the trauma they are experiencing. It can make a child feel confused or alone.

If you observe signs that a child may be getting abused and/or neglected, it is important to closely monitor the situation to ensure the child is protected.

What are some common signs a child may be suffering abuse?

Physical signs

  • Visible and severe injuries, especially in infants. This includes bruises, sprains, and burns
  • Injuries varying in healing stages
  • Burn marks
  • Injuries difficult to explain
  • Timing of injuries and/or its frequency, such as during particular times of year or once a month

Behavioral signs

  • Behavior extremes, such as being overly compliant and passive or very demanding and aggressive
  • Increased avoidance or fear of a specific person or situation
  • Nightmares or difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty expressing thoughts and feelings
  • Wears clothing that covers up arms, legs, and other parts of the body out of season

Sexual signs

  • Pain or itching in the genital area
  • Bruises or bleeding in and around the genital area
  • Torn, stained, or bloody clothing
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Pregnancy
  • Knowledge or interest in sexual behaviors not age appropriate

Developmental signs

  • Failure to thrive socially or academically
  • Uncomfortable with physical contact with others
  • Slowed physical, emotional, or intellectual development
  • Learning disorders
  • Speech disorders

Psychological signs

  • Low self-esteem
  • Uncharacteristic obedience or perfectionism
  • Strong shame or guilt
  • Statements or behaviors that appear programmed
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