Q: What are the signs that a child might have been abused?
A: Children who are being abused may seem:
- nervous around adults or afraid of certain adults
- reluctant to go home (for example, coming to school early or staying late)
- exceptionally passive and withdrawn – or aggressive and disruptive
- tired a lot – or complaining of nightmares or not sleeping well
- fearful and anxious
- suddenly different in behavior or school performance
Q: What are the signs that an adult might be abusing a child?
A: A parent or caregiver may be acting abusively if he or she:
- seems unconcerned about the child’s welfare at school or at home
- denies problems at school or at home – or blames the child for them
- seems to see the child as a burden or lacking worth
- avoids discussing the child’s injuries or gives conflicting explanations for them
- abuses alcohol or other drugs
- seems isolated from other parents and school and community activities
- uses harsh physical discipline or asks other caretakers to use it
- depends on the child for emotional support
- seems indifferent to the child
- seems secretive or tries to isolate the child from other children
- tends to blame, belittle, or insult the child
Q: What are the general signs that a child might have experienced sexual abuse?
A: Any of the following signs can manifest at other stressful times such as death of a loved one, divorce or separation, or when there are problems in school. The presence of several of these signs, however, may indicate that the child has been sexually abused:
- nightmares, trouble sleeping, fear of the dark, or other sleeping difficulties
- extreme fear of monsters
- spacing out at odd times
- loss of appetite or trouble eating or swallowing
- sudden mood swings, such as rage, fear, anger, or withdrawal
- fear of certain people or places
- ongoing stomach illness with no identifiable reason
- an older child behaving like a younger child, such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking
- difficulty walking or sitting or other indications of injury in the genital area
- sexual activities with toys or other children
- using new words for private body parts
- sexual knowledge or behavior beyond what is developmentally appropriate for the child's age
- talking about a new older friend and having secrets
Q: What are the physical signs that a child might be experiencing sexual abuse?
A: The child may have:
- unexplained bruises, redness, or bleeding of the genitals, anus, or mouth
- pain at the genitals, anus, or mouth
- genital sores or milky fluids in the genital area
Source: Because There Is A Way to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse: Facts About Abuse and Those Who Might Commit It, STOP IT NOW (2002).
Q: What are the signs that a child might be experiencing psychological maltreatment?
A: These signs don't always indicate psychological maltreatment, but there is cause for concern when a child:
- seems hostile or aggressive
- does not perform well in school
- withdraws from others
- acts exceptionally mature or immature for the child's age
- exhibits extreme changes in behavior
- appears depressed
- automatically goes along with the wishes or ideas of others
- craves attention from adults
Q: What are the signs that a parent or caregiver might be psychologically mistreating a child?
A: Though psychological maltreatment is most often invisible, with no physical marks or bruises, the adult may demonstrate these behaviors over time:
- regular disappointment with the child’s progress at school
- refusal to meet with teachers, principals, or other important adult figures in the child’s life
- isolation from the community
- belittling or screaming at the child
- abusing alcohol or other drugs
- rejection of the child’s show of affection
Q: What are signs that a child might be experiencing physical abuse?
A: Physical abuse is often easier to identify than other forms of abuse. The following factors may be present:
- a description of events that does not sufficiently explain an injury
- an impossible or outlandish explanation of an injury, as offered by parents, caretakers, or children themselves
- inadequate, inconsisent, or conflicting histories or explanations of an injury, as provided by parents or caretakers
- delayed or inappropriate treatment for a child’s injuries
- bruises, lacerations, swollen areas, or marks on the child’s face, head, back, chest, genital area, buttocks, or thighs, or specific lesions such as human bites, cigarette burns, broken bones, puncture marks, or missing hair
- presence of minor or severe injuries with increasing frequency
- numerous injuries in various stages of healing, such that they could not all have occurred at any one time
- one of two personality patterns, as exhibited by the child -- being either compliant, shy, withdrawn, passive, uncommunicative, and anxious or seeming somewhat hyperactive, aggressive, disruptive, and destructive
Any one injury may have a legitimate explanation. But when the story does not explain the injury or a pattern of frequency becomes apparent, physical abuse should be suspected.
Many physically abused children are young: 40% of reported victims are five years old or younger. An estimated 90% of reported child abuse fatalities are in this age group.
Q: What are the signs that a child may be experiencing neglect?
A: While no parent or caregiver can be attentive to a child’s needs at all times in all places, repeated inattention is cause for concern. The following factors may be present:
- aggressive, disruptive, or destructive behavior on the part of the child
- show of lavish affection by the child to most anyone, including strangers
- child's withdrawal, extreme shyness, difficulty relating to adults, or trouble forming close friendships
- “uncared-for” appearance by the child, where he or she tends to wear dirty, tattered, or torn clothes; to dress inappropriately for the weather; or to lack other personal hygiene habits
- appearance of undernourishment, indicating that the child may not be eating enough of the right kinds of food at home or may not be getting food at all
- apparent lack of concern by parents or caregivers about where their children are or what they're doing
- habitual absence or tardiness from school on the part of the child
- child's need for medical care, as evidenced by poor dental health, incomplete immunization records, failure to have damaged eyeglasses repaired within a reasonable time, or other ignored medical problems
- lack of supervision, where young children are left alone for long periods (The ND Dept. of Human Services’ Child Protection Guidelines offers more information about appropriate supervision for various developmental stages.)