Signs Of Child Abuse

“In the United States of America, every child should have every chance in life, every chance at happiness, and every chance at success. Yet tragically, hundreds of thousands of young Americans shoulder the burden of abuse or neglect. As a nation, we must do better.” With these words, President Obama proclaimed April 2014 as National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, there were an estimated 3.4 million referrals to Child Protective Service agencies in 2012 involving the maltreatment of children. Although the laws about what is considered child abuse vary from state to state, it generally takes these forms:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Psychological or emotional abuse
  • Neglect
  • Abandonment
  • Substance abuse on the part of a parent that endangers a child

10 Warning Signs of Child Abuse

Clinical social workers are on the front line in the battle against child abuse. In addition to working with families to help prevent abuse, clinicians must be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of abuse. They also need to be aware that the presence of a single sign does not necessarily mean that abuse has occurred, but it could mean that a closer look at the child’s family and home life may be warranted.

  1. Unexplained fractures, burns, bruises or other injuries.
  2. Changes in a child’s behavior, including being more fearful, anxious, depressed or aggressive.
  3. Reverting to younger behavior, such as bed wetting or thumb sucking.
  4. Anxiety about returning home or going places with the abuser.
  5. Changes in eating habits which may lead to weight loss or gain.
  6. Sleep disturbances and frequent nightmares, leading a child to appear tired.
  7. Frequent school absences and difficulty in concentrating at school.
  8. Unkempt appearance or lack of warm clothing in cold weather.
  9. Engaging in high-risk behaviors, including using alcohol or drugs or carrying a weapon.
  10. Inappropriate sexual behavior and language.

There are also certain parent behaviors that can be warning signs of abuse. These include using harsh physical punishment, showing little concern for their child, constantly belittling or blaming the child and holding the child to very high achievement standards.

Child abuse knows no boundaries and occurs in both poor and affluent communities and among all racial groups. While some people who abuse children are mentally disturbed or criminals, others were themselves victims of abuse and grew up with poor parenting role models.

Reporting Child Abuse

Every U.S. state has regulations in place that designate certain types of professions as required by law to report suspected child abuse and neglect. At the top of the list of mandatory reporters are social workers, followed by teachers and school administrators, health care professionals, mental health professionals, child care providers, medical examiners and law enforcement officers.

Social workers or any concerned person who suspects that a child has been abused should take immediate action. This does not mean that you should confront the abuser or pressure the child into speaking up. Instead, reassure the child and provide support, then contact local law enforcement or a Child Protective Services agency. Taking action against child abuse can save a child’s life as well as reduce the chances that the child will become an abuser as an adult.