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Signs of Abuse & Neglect

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Though it can be difficult to recognize when a child is being abused, there are signs you can watch for. Below is a list of 10 common signs of abuse in school-age children and adolescents that everyone should know.

Click here to learn the signs of stress in children under 5 years old.

Learning these signs and discussing them with those close to you is the first step in breaking the pattern of violence that hurts us all.

  1. Unexplained injuries. Visible signs of physical abuse may include unexplained burns or bruises in the shape of objects. You may also hear unconvincing explanations of a child's injuries.
  2. Changes in behavior. Abuse can lead to many changes in a child's behavior. Abused children often appear scared, anxious, depressed, withdrawn or more aggressive.
  3. Returning to earlier behaviors. Abused children may display behaviors shown at earlier ages, such as thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, fear of the dark or strangers. For some children, even loss of acquired language or memory problems may be an issue.
  4. Fear of going home. Abused children may express apprehension or anxiety about leaving school or about going places with the person who is abusing them.
  5. Changes in eating. The stress, fear and anxiety caused by abuse can lead to changes in a child's eating behaviors, which may result in weight gain or weight loss.
  6. Changes in sleeping. Abused children may have frequent nightmares or have difficulty falling asleep, and as a result may appear tired or fatigued.
  7. Changes in school performance and attendance. Abused children may have difficulty concentrating in school or have excessive absences, sometimes due to adults trying to hide the children's injuries from authorities.
  8. Lack of personal care or hygiene. Abused and neglected children may appear uncared for. They may present as consistently dirty and have severe body odor, or they may lack sufficient clothing for the weather.
  9. Risk-taking behaviors. Young people who are being abused may engage in high-risk activities such as using drugs or alcohol or carrying a weapon.
  10. Inappropriate sexual behaviors. Children who have been sexually abused may exhibit overly sexualized behavior or use explicit sexual language.

Some signs that a child is experiencing violence or abuse are more obvious than others. Trust your instincts. Suspected abuse is sufficient to contact the authorities. You do not need proof.

If you suspect a child has been abused...

Keep calm.
Tell the child you believe them.
Show interest and concern.
Reassure and support the child.
Take action. It could save a child's life.
Panic or overreact.
Pressure the child.
Confront the offender.
Blame the child or minimize the child's feelings.
Overwhelm the child with questions.

Download all of this information on the Child Abuse Tip Card

Learn how to report child abuse.

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