Indicators of Child Maltreatment
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SIGNS OF CHILD MALTREATMENT & NEGLECT
Child abuse comes in many forms. Different types of maltreatment and neglect manifest as different physical and behavioral indicators.
Simply by listening and paying attention to a child’s behavior, much can be learned about a child’s personal experiences. These valuable insights may help you recognize the signs and symptoms of a child’s maltreatment and prevent a child from further abuse and harm.
CHILD NEGLECT INDICATORS
Child neglect is the failure of a parent or caretaker to meet a child’s needs. The indicators of child neglect may be physical or behavioral.
Physical Indicators of Neglect
- Consistent hunger, poor hygiene, inappropriate dress
- Consistent lack of supervision, especially in dangerous activities or long periods
- Constant fatigue or listlessness
- Unattended physical problems or medical needs
BEHAVIORAL INDICATORS OF NEGLECT
- Begging, stealing food
- Extended stays at school (early arrival and late departure)
- Constantly falling asleep in class
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Delinquency (e.g. thefts)
- States there is no caregiver
PHYSICAL ABUSE INDICATORS
The indicators of physical abuse often come in the form of physical marks, but physical abuse may also cause behavioral indicators in children who are victims of abuse.
UNEXPLAINED BRUISES AND WELTS:
- On face, lips, mouth
- On torso, back, buttocks, thighs
- In various stages of healing
- Cluster, forming regular patterns
- Reflecting shape of article used to inflict (electric cord, belt buckle)
- On several different surface areas
- Regularly appear after absence, weekend, or vacation
- Cigar, cigarette burns, especially on soles, palms, back, or buttocks
- Immersion burns (sock-like, glove-like doughnut shape on buttocks or genitalia)
- Patterned like electric burner, iron, etc.
- Rope burns on arms, legs, neck, or torso
- To skull, nose, facial structure
- In various stages of healing
- Multiple or spiral fractures
UNEXPLAINED LACERATIONS & ABRASIONS:
- To mouth, lips, gums, eyes
- To limbs and buttocks
- To external genitalia
BEHAVIORAL INDICATORS OF PHYSICAL ABUSE
- Wary of adult contact
- Apprehensive when other children cry
- Frightened of parents
- Afraid to go home
- Reports injury by parents
EMOTIONAL ABUSE INDICATORS
Emotional abuse can cause a variety of behavioral problems in children. It is important to recognize the signs of emotional or verbal abuse in order to prevent further harm.
- Habit disorders (sucking, biting, rocking, etc.)
- Conduct disorders (antisocial, destructive, etc.)
- Neurotic traits (sleep disorders, speech disorders, inhibition of play)
BEHAVIORAL INDICATORS OF EMOTIONAL ABUSE
OVERLY ADOPTIVE BEHAVIOR:
- Inappropriately adult behavior
- Inappropriately infant behavior
- Compliant, passive
- Aggressive, demanding
SEXUAL ABUSE INDICATORS
Like other forms of child maltreatment, sexual abuse can create both physical and behavioral indicators.
- Difficulty walking or sitting
- Torn, stained, or bloody underclothing
- Pain or itching in genital area
- Bruises or bleeding in external genitalia, vaginal, or anal areas
- Venereal disease, especially in pre-teens
BEHAVIORAL INDICATORS OF SEXUAL ABUSE
- Unwilling to change for gym or participate in PE
- Withdrawn, fantasy, or infantile behavior
- Bizarre, sophisticated, or unusual sexual behavior or knowledge
- Poor peer-to-peer relationships
- Delinquent or run away
- Reports sexual assault by caregiver
Resources like these are provided by American SPCC – a national nonprofit dedicated to building positive childhoods for all children by empowering parents and caregivers with research-backed education and support.
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