Recognizing the Signs of Child Abuse

Preventing Child Abuse

The first step in helping a child who is being subjected to mistreatment is recognizing the signs of neglect and abuse. While the presence of one or some of these signs doesn’t always point directly to abuse in their home-life, if there is a recurring pattern, it may be worth looking into. Here’s what you should know.

What is Abuse?

The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) defines child abuse and neglect as, "any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation," or, "an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm."

While many people may think of visible bruises or broken bones as telltale signs of abuse, it’s not always that easy to identify. Abuse isn’t always physical, but it is always harmful to the child. It is essential to helping a child in need that you know what is considered abusive or negligent.

There are four main types of abuse and neglect to look out for.

  • Physical Abuse: occurs when a person is a custodial role to a child or teen uses physical force to harm them. This may include hitting, kicking, burning, or any other form of physical force used against a child.
  • Sexual Abuse: happens when a child is forced to perform sexual acts. This can range from touching, to penetration, to exposing a child to sexual activities and materials.
  • Emotional Abuse: occurs when a child’s emotional well-being and self-worth are threatened by negative behaviors. This may include name-calling, rejection, and threatening.
  • Neglect: happens when a child’s basic physical and emotional needs are not being met. This includes housing, food, clothing, education, and medical care.

Warning Signs of Abuse or Neglect

Recognizing red flags that may point to the presence of abuse or neglect at home are often identified by watching a child’s behavior during social interactions at school or during other organized activities. Though these signs do not guarantee that there is maltreatment in a child’s home, they should spark a further investigation into the matter.

Warning Signs of Emotional Abuse in Children

  • Excessively fearful or anxious about doing something wrong.
  • Shows extremes in behavior.
  • Seems emotionally detached to the parent or caregiver.
  • Acts either inappropriately adult-like (taking care of other children).
  • Acts inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, throwing tantrums).

Warning Signs of Physical Abuse in Children

  • Frequent or unexplained injuries, bruises, welts, or cuts.
  • Frequently anxious as if waiting for something bad to happen.
  • Shies away from touch.
  • Flinching at sudden movements or sounds.
  • Seems afraid to go home.
  • Wears inappropriate/inclimate clothing to cover up injuries (long sleeves and pants on hot days)

Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children

  • Trouble or discomfort while walking or sitting.
  • Displays knowledge or interest in sexual acts inappropriate to their age, or even displays seductive behavior.
  • Doesn’t want to change clothes in front of others.
  • A sexually transmitted disease (STD) or pregnancy, especially under the age of fourteen.
  • Runs away from home.

Warning Signs of Neglect in Children

  • Clothes are ill-fitting, dirty, or inappropriate for the weather.
  • Hygiene is consistently poor.
  • Untreated illnesses and physical injuries.
  • Frequently unsupervised or left alone.
  • Frequently late or missing from school.

How You Can Help if You Suspect Abuse

Community members, parents, and guardians have the right to file a complaint against any person they suspect that a child is being neglected or abused. Appropriate phone numbers for each county’s child abuse reporting can be found here at the California Emergency Response Child Abuse Reporting Telephone Numbers.

Pediatric Care in Ridgecrest, California

At Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, our team of highly trained and experienced family physicians and pediatricians is dedicated to providing services to patients of all ages in Ridgecrest and surrounding areas. To learn more about our pediatric care services or schedule an appointment, visit our website or give us a call at (760) 446-3551 (Mon-Fri 8 AM-4:30 PM).