Indicators of Abuse

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month!

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.” --William Shakespeare


You will see that spirit of youth memorialized all month in blue pinwheels across the country. They remind us of all that is wonderful about childhood—whimsy, joy, and wonder. To promote those positives, we shift our focus to the prevention of abuse and neglect to give every child the best opportunity to have a safe and happy childhood. To prevent abuse, it is necessary to identify it. Abuse is typically broken down into four categories: physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and emotional abuse. This article will help you identify each type of abuse so you can report it. You can give a child a voice and change a life.

Physical abuse can be present when a child has unexplained injuries such as bruises, bite marks, cuts, burns, soft-tissue injury or broken bones. What separates these injuries from ordinary childhood wear and tear is the fact that it is unexplained, or that the injuries don’t comport with the story offered to explain them. Other evidence that should raise suspicion includes pattern bruising (like a hand slap or marks from an implement used to spank); bruising in various stages of healing; or injuries like burns that look to have been intentionally caused.

Sexual abuse rarely presents with physical symptoms. It can—pregnancy and STIs are obvious examples—but usually you must rely on observations, because sex offenders take great care to keep this crime secret. That said, children that have unusual trauma to their private parts or mouth, have trouble walking or sitting, or recurrent urinary tract infections might be victims. Behavioral concerns include a sudden inability to control bladder or bowels, nightmares, fear of people they used to enjoy spending time with, sexual knowledge or behavior beyond their developmental age, behavioral regression, or other symptoms of trauma. Sex trafficking is one type of sexual abuse. It is always illegal, even if a child or adolescent expresses willingness to participate. Each of these indicators is deserving of an exam by a physician. Resources are available if you have concerns at 844-CO-4KIDS.

Neglect is typically defined as the denial of essentials of life that a reasonable parent would provide. It is different than poverty. Poor families might not have extras, but if they are providing appropriate clothing, medical care, food, shelter and other essentials, it is not neglect. Neglect is present where caretakers are not providing basics, to include medical and dental care and educational necessities. If a child is in need of services for functioning in the critical areas of life and the parent refuses to accept or consider offers of help for those services, there may be neglect.

Emotional abuse occurs when a parent’s belittling of or threats to a child impair the child’s emotional, physical, or cognitive development. It is present with all other types of abuse, as well as when there is domestic violence in the child’s home, even if the child is not the physical victim of that abuse. A child who is rejected or berated by a parent experiences emotional abuse. Untreated mental health or substance use problems by the parent can result in emotional abuse and neglect.

Raise your voice to help a child. You don’t have to, nor should you, investigate. Just report your concerns to the experts. You can call local law enforcement, your county department of child protection, or the statewide hotline, 844-CO-4KIDS. These are the only three ways to satisfy your obligation as a mandated reporter of child abuse. Make the call. We all play a role in preventing child abuse and neglect.