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Signs to watch for in children who may be in abusive or neglectful situations

Child Abuse Prevention Month | SAFY

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, which helps raise public awareness about preventing child maltreatment. 

During the month of April and throughout the year, National Child Abuse Prevention Month is a time to acknowledge the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse and neglect and to promote the social and emotional well-being of children and families. 

More than 700,000 children in the U.S. alone were victims of abuse and neglect in 2016 according to the National Children’s Alliance. If that statistic isn’t startling enough, every year more than 3.6 million referrals are made to child protection agencies involving more than 6.6 million children. That equals a report of child abuse every ten seconds. Many people are under the impression that child abuse is solely bruises and broken bones. While physical abuse might be the most visible, other types of abuse, such as emotional abuse and neglect, leave deep and lasting scars. The earlier an abused child is able to receive help, the greater chance they have to heal. By learning the common signs of abuse and what you can do to intervene, you can make a huge difference in a child’s life.

To fully understand child abuse, it’s important to realize that not all child abuse is as obvious as bruises. Ignoring a child’s needs, putting them in unsupervised and dangerous situations, or speaking to a child using phrases like “you’re stupid,” are all forms of abuse. Regardless of the type of abuse, the results cause lasting emotional harm. Child abuse and neglect happen in every community, whether your area is rich or poor, urban or rural and due to this, it’s important to know the signs.

Although there are different warning signs for different types of abuse and neglect, there are some red flag indicators that can signal abuse in any form. Those indicators for children include:

  • Sudden changes in behavior or school performance
  • An apparent lack of supervision
  • Frequent absences from school
  • Always watchful, as though something bad is about to happen
  • Reluctance to leave school activities, as if he or she doesn’t want to go home
  • Unexplained injuries

Indicators for parents include:

  • Showing little concern for the child, rarely responding to the school’s requests for information
  • Denies the existence of, or blames the child for the child’s problems at school or at home
  • Views the child as entirely bad, worthless or burdensome

 

Indicators for the parent and child include:

  • Rarely touching or looking at each other
  • State they do not like each other

 

Signs of physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse and emotional maltreatment include:

  • Unexplained burns, bruises, broken bones, black eyes
  • Appears frightened of parents
  • Frequently absent from school
  • Lacks needed medical care, consistently dirty or hungry
  • Demonstrates bizarre, sophisticated or unusal sexual knowledge or behavior,
  • Shows extremes in behavior, such as overly compliant or extreme passivity or aggression
  • In older children—runs away, attempted suicide or reports a lack of attachment to the parent


It’s important to note that although none of these sings prove that child abuse is present in a family, when these signs appear repeatedly or in a combination, they should cause a person or educator to take a closer look at the situation and consider the possibility of child abuse according to preventchildabuse.org.

If you think a child is being abused, the best way to begin is to simply talk to the child. For example, if a child has a visible injury, simply ask them how they got hurt. Using open-ended questions such as “tell me what happened” will help the child to talk honestly. The most important step you can take though is reporting. If you suspect a child is being or has been physically abused, you can contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).

At SAFY, our Mission is to Preserve Families and Secure Futures. Our community based programs ensure the physical and emotional safety of each individual through our Model of Care. There are thousands of children and teens in need, awaiting your help. You can be the difference in the life of a child or teen today.

Learn more about SAFY and how you can help by visiting safy.org/become-a-foster-parent or calling 1-800-532-7239.