There are often certain recognizable physical and behavioral indicators of child abuse or neglect. The following signs, by themselves, may not be conclusive evidence of a problem, but serve as indicators of the possibility that a problem exists.

Signs of Physical Abuse

  • Bruising, welts or burns that cannot be sufficiently explained; particularly bruises on the face, lips, and mouth of infants or on several surface planes at the same time;
  • Withdrawn, fearful or extreme behavior;
  • Clusters of bruises, welts or burns, indicating repeated contact with a hand or instrument;
  • Burns that are insufficiently explained; for example, cigarette burns; and
  • Injuries on children where children don't usually get injured (e.g., the torso, back neck buttocks, or thighs).

Signs of Sexual Abuse

  • Difficulty walking or sitting;
  • Pain or itching in the genital area;
  • Torn, stained or bloody underclothing;
  • Frequent complaints of stomachaches or headaches;
  • Venereal disease;
  • Bruises or bleeding in external genitalia;
  • Feeling threatened by physical contact;
  • Inappropriate sex play or premature understanding of sex; and
  • Frequent urinary or yeast infections.

Signs of Emotional Injury

  • Speech disorders;
  • Inability to play as most children do;
  • Sleeping problems;
  • Anti-social behavior or behavioral extremes; and
  • Delays in emotional and intellectual growth.

Signs of Neglect

  • Lack of medical or dental care;
  • Chronically dirty or unbathed;
  • Lack of adequate school attendance;
  • Lack of supervision; for example young children left unattended or with other children too young to protect or care for them;
  • Lack of proper nutrition;
  • Lack of adequate shelter;
  • Self-destructive feelings or behavior; and
  • Alcohol or drug abuse.

Each case of child abuse or neglect is individual. The child who has been hurt is always the victim. If you believe a child may be the victim of abuse or neglect, contact the Child-at-Risk Hotline at 1-800-792-5200.


This information is provided by the Department of Children and Families.

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