Warning Signs of Child Abuse and Neglect


The four main types of child maltreatment are physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse.

Physical Abuse is physical injury that results in significant harm to the child, or the honest threat of substantial harm dealt from physical injury to the child. Neglect is failure to provide for a child’s basic needs necessary to sustain the life or health of the child, excluding failure caused primarily by financial inability unless relief services have been offered and refused. Sexual Abuse includes fondling a child’s genitals, penetration, incest, rape, sodomy, indecent exposure, and exploitation through prostitution or producing pornographic materials. Emotional Abuse is mental or emotional injury that results in an observable and material impairment in a child’s growth, development, or psychological functioning.” These definitions are quoted directly from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ website.

Child abuse and neglect may result in the child being removed from the potentially unsafe home and placed in foster care. Please take a moment to read over these signs of child maltreatment to become better prepared to recognize the problem.

Warning Signs of Abuse

If you see any of these marks of physical abuse, please seek help for the child:

Physical Indications

  • Unexplained bruises or injuries
  • Linear bruising, particularly on the buttocks, legs, arms, and back
  • Abnormal injuries such as on the face, legs, bottom, or torso
  • Bruising in various stages of healing, specifically when on different body parts
  • Bruises in the shape of an object—a hand, shoe, iron, stick, belt, etc.
  • Bruises or other noticeable marks after an absence from school

Behavioral Indications

  • Difficult to believe explanations for injuries
  • Difficulty sitting, complains of soreness, or appears to move uncomfortably
  • Unreasonable clothing to cover body, especially unsuitable to weather
  • Reports mistreatment of animals in the home
  • Becomes withdrawn, aggressive or self-destructive
  • Is bullied or is a bully
  • Routinely arrives at school early or stays late
  • Is overly compliant, an overachiever or overly responsible
  • Seems frightened of the parents; appears afraid of being at home
  • Is always watchful and alert as if waiting for something bad to occur
  • Exhibits learning problems
  • Behavior changes immediately before going home from school or when picked up
  • Wary of adult contact; cringes or flinches when others get close

Warning Signs of Abuse

Watch out for the following signs of neglect.

Physical Indications

  • Lack of attention for physical or medical problems
  • Only urgent medical needs are taken care of; untreated dental problems
  • Bad hygiene
  • Too small or too large clothing or clothes not suited to the weather
  • Little or no support for school work and activities from family
  • Attended many different schools, experiencing enrollment delays
  • No pets or many pets; describes pets as hungry or dying
  • Repeatedly misplaces or fails to turn in school papers, permission slips, etc.
  • No lunch money for lunch or arrives to school in time for free meals

 Behavioral Indications

  • Frequent school absences or reporting tardy
  • Allowed to play in risky places or with unsafe people
  • Must tend to household, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and take care of brothers/sisters, which duties are inappropriate for age or family size
  • Feels responsible for meeting the parent(s)’ needs
  • Falls asleep in class
  • Inconsistent need for affection or attention
  • Self-soothing behaviors, thumb sucking, rocking
  • Learning problems, speech delays and delayed physical development
  • Self-destructive and delinquent behavior at an early age
  • Difficulty making friends or keeping them
  • Begs or steals food or money

Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse

As stated above, sexual abuse is multifaceted, but can still be identified. Watch for:

Physical Indications

  • Problems walking or sitting
  • Abrupt weight change
  • Often complains of stomach or headache, sore throat
  • Will not change for gym or partake in physical activities
  • Negative change in appearance
  • Recurrent urinary or yeast infections unexplained by medical condition or treatment
  • Pregnant or contracts a venereal disease
  • Runs away from home

Behavioral Indications

  • Changes in behavior or school performance
  • Unsuitably seductive
  • Too knowledgeable about or interested in sexual activity and deeds for one of the age group

Warning Signs of Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is no less damaging than physical abuse. You may suspect emotional abuse:

Physical Indications

  • Speech delays
  • Absence of attachment to the parent
  • Often complains of ulcers, stomach or headaches that are symptoms of anxiety

Behavioral indications

  • Frightened or anxious of doing something wrong or making a mistake
  • Excessively withdrawn
  • Doesn’t play
  • Degrades him/herself
  • Behavior swings: overly compliant one time, then demanding
  • Abnormally passive or aggressive
  • Delayed emotional development: crying, whining, etc.
  • Self-soothing behaviors like thumb sucking
  • Unsuitable adult behaviors for the age

How to Help Abused or Neglected Children

Each child’s circumstances are unique. The warning signs and symptoms of child abuse and neglect differ with the child’s characteristics and environment. Children have individual ways of handling abuse, but the lists above can help identify if the child is potentially suffering from abuse. If you suspect a child is the victim of abuse or neglect, call the Texas Abuse Hotline toll-free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, nationwide: 1-800-252-5400. Or report through the Texas Department of Family and Protective Service’s secure website and get a response within 24 hours: https://www.txabusehotline.org/Login/Default.aspx. (Please note, Texas DFPS cannot accept email reports of suspected abuse or neglect.)

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