How can I recognize potential child abuse?

The following may indicate the presence of child abuse or neglect. There are many reasons a child may not want to go home on a particular day or may be overly compliant when they are trying to please a favorite teacher or trusted adult. However, when you have a cluster of two or more of these, this should raise a red flag to at least talk to the child and or parent, or potentially call your Child Protective Services, depending on the circumstances. It is important to remember that issues related solely to poverty are not considered child maltreatment issues.  

For the child:  

  • Sudden changes in behavior or school performance  
  • Displays overt sexualized behavior or exhibits sexual knowledge that is inconsistent with their age  
  • Has not received medical attention for a physical injury that has been brought to the parents’ attention  
  • Has learning problems that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes  
  • Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen  
  • Is overly compliant, an overachiever or too responsible  
  • Comes to school early, stays late and does not want to go home  
  • Has unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones or black eyes  
  • Has bruises or marks in non-prominent, “fleshy” areas of the body (for example, inside of biceps or behind the knees)  
  • Has fading bruises or other marks noticeable after an absence from school  
  • Seems frightened of their parents/caregivers and protests or cries when it is time to go home from school  
  • Shrinks at the approach of adults  
  • Reports injury by a parent or another adult caregiver 

For the parent or other caregiver:  

  • Shows little concern for the child, rarely responding to the school’s requests for information, conferences or home visits  
  • Denies the existence of or blames the child for problems in school or at home  
  • Asks the classroom teacher to use harsh physical discipline if the child misbehaves  
  • Sees the child as entirely bad, worthless or burdensome  
  • Demands perfection, or a level of physical or academic performance the child cannot achieve  
  • Offers conflicting, unconvincing or no explanation for the child’s injury  
  • Describes the child as “evil” or in some other very negative way  
  • Is abusing alcohol, prescription drugs or illegal drugs, and that abuse is having an adverse impact on the child  
  • Uses harsh physical discipline with the child  
  • Has a history of abuse as a child 

Show All Answers

1. What is child abuse and neglect?
2. How can I recognize potential child abuse?
3. What happens after a report is made?
4. What is an assessment?
5. What happens after the assessment is completed?
6. How do I report suspected child abuse?