Signs of Child Abuse and Neglect

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Since too many child victims of abuse and neglect are chronically going unnoticed, Ark of Hope for Children is providing this extensive list of the signs of abuse and neglect. It is our hope that many will learn and become well aware and able to notice, then take appropriate action.

Knowing the Signs is Critical

While physical signs are the easiest to spot they are still being missed as these children attend schools and exist in our neighborhoods. It is important to note that an abused, and often the neglected child is warned never to tell. It is, therefore imperative that we look closely. Once it is expected and they are approached we must carefully and repeatedly help them feel no shame, or blame. They already feel isolated and alone so allow your interaction to be one of innocent compassion and hopefulness.

ChildAbuse ArkofHope

Signs of Child Abuse

Developmental Signs of Child Abuse may include:

  • Behind academically
  • Learning disorders
  • Socially detached (difficulty connecting with others)
  • Speech disorders

Behavior in General:

  • Anxiety and/or excessive worrying
  • Behavior extremes (appearing overly passive and compliant or very aggressive and demanding)
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Depression
  • Difficulty expressing thoughts and feelings
  • Discomfort with physical contact (possibly violent if surprised from behind)
  • Doesn’t react normally to pain
  • Drug use (to hide from their painful memories)
  • Hyper-vigilant (Watching everywhere and every person)
  • Inability to stay awake in class (May only sleep 2-4 hours a night)
  • Increased fear or avoidance of a specific person and/or situation
  • Low self esteem
  • Running away
  • Sudden dislike or disinterest in an activity or sport they used to enjoy
  • Sudden drop in academic performance and grades
  • Wears long sleeved clothing even in warm weather (possibly hiding abuse or self-harm)
  • Withdrawn and/or overly sensitive behaviors

Behavior around Parents:

  • Child appearing to be afraid of the parent
  • Child very cautious not to upset parent(s)
  • Parent disinterested in their child

Signs of Physical Abuse:

  • Bedwetting
  • Bruises, welts, swelling or burns that cannot be sufficiently explained
  • Cigarette burns
  • Failure to thrive (delayed physical development such as weight)
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent or suspicious sprains or fractures
  • Frequent physical complaints, such as stomachaches and headaches
  • Injuries where children don't usually get injured (chest, back, neck, buttocks or thighs)
  • Patterns or clusters of bruises, welts or burns
  • Signs of injuries that were never properly treated
  • Withdrawn, fearful or extreme behavior

Signs of Sexual Abuse:

  • Bruises or bleeding in the external genital area
  • Difficulty in walking or sitting
  • Fear of bathrooms
  • Feeling threatened by physical contact
  • Frequent physical complaints, such as stomachaches and headaches
  • Frequent urinary or yeast infections
  • Knowledge of or interest in sexual behaviors that are not age appropriate
  • Pain or itching in the genital area
  • Pregnancy
  • Prostitution
  • Sexually transmitted infections or diseases
  • Torn, stained or bloody under or outer clothing

Signs of Emotional / Psychological Abuse:

  • Anti-social behavior
  • Behavioral extremes
  • Delays in emotional and intellectual growth
  • Inability to play as most children do
  • Low self-esteem
  • Programmed statements or behaviors
  • Sleeping problems
  • Speech disorders
  • Strong feelings of shame or guilt
  • Uncharacteristic obedience or perfectionism

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Signs of Neglect

Children who have experienced neglect may demonstrate any of the following signs;

General Clues:

  • Lack of adequate shelter
  • Lack of supervision; for example young children left unattended or with other children too young to protect or care for them
  • Suspected homelessness

Developmental Signs of Neglect may include:

  • Attachment issues (seeking excessive comfort and attention from others or difficulty forming relationships)
  • Chronically sick and/or tired
  • Delayed physical development
  • Failure to thrive
  • Lags in physical, emotional or intellectual development
  • Learning disorders
  • Over or under weight
  • Speech disorders

Physical Signs of Neglect:

  • Chronically dirty or unbathed
  • Lack of nutrition
  • Poor hygiene
  • Rashes or skin abrasions
  • Wears clothes inappropriate for the season

Educational Signs of Neglect:

  • Chronically incomplete or missing schoolwork
  • Excessive tardiness
  • Infrequent attendance in school
  • Poor school attendance
  • Lack of adequate school supplies
  • School forms not returned or unsigned

Medical Signs of Neglect:

  • Lack of medical and/or dental care
  • Low self-esteem
  • Regular illnesses
  • Substance abuse


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