Warning Signs of Child Abuse & Neglect | Children's Bureau



Warning Signs for Child Abuse & Neglect

Child abuse can occur in more ways than just physical Injury. The deepest scars are often left by emotional abuse and neglect, which are forms of child maltreatment that aren’t as easy to detect. Regardless of the type of child abuse and child neglect, the resulting emotional neglect and mental health damage can prevent them from having a normal childhood. Learning and identifying the warning signs of child abuse can make a huge difference in a child’s life. The earlier kids get help, the better chance they have at healing. Below, we’ve put together a list of some of the most common traits found in children who are abused physically, emotionally or through neglect.

Warning Signs of Child Abuse: How to Detect Abuse and Neglect

Child abuse isn’t always obvious. By becoming familiar with the most common signs of physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect, you can catch the issues as early as possible to get the child the appropriate treatment they need. It’s important to keep in mind that just because a child displays one of these warning signs doesn’t necessarily mean that the child is being abused or neglected. However, if you notice a pattern of warning signs for suspected child abuse, they are likely in need of help.

Warning Signs of Physical Abuse:

  • Recurrent injuries such as unexplained bruises, cuts, or even broken bones, often appearing in patterns
  • Alert behavior; child seems to always be expecting something bad to happen
  • Often wears clothing that covers up their skin, even in warm weather
  • Child seems afraid to go home, which could be an indicator of family violence or other domestic issues
  • Child startles easily, shies away from touch or shows other skittish behavior

Warning Signs of Emotional Abuse:

  • Constantly seems fearful or anxious about doing something wrong
  • Withdrawn from peers and adults
  • Behavior fluctuates between extremes (i.e. extremely cooperative or highly demanding)
  • Acting either inappropriately beyond their age (like an older child or adult; taking care of other children) or inappropriately younger than their age (like a younger child or infant; throwing tantrums)
  • Frequent nightmares, night terrors, or sleep disturbances

Warning Signs of Child Neglect:

  • Dirty, ill-fitting clothes
  • Expresses hunger
  • Illnesses and unexplained injuries often go untreated
  • Child is often late or missing from school
  • Frequently left alone or unsupervised by an adult caregiver at home
  • Child consistently has bad hygiene (unbathed, dirty hair, body odor)
  • Allowed to play in dangerous environments, doesn’t have a curfew or bedtime

How to Help An Abused or Neglected Child

Look out for these physical indicators, behavioral indicators, and maltreatment examples. If you suspect that a young child in your community has been abused in any of the ways discussed above, there are several ways you can help. Although child abuse and neglect may be a particularly overwhelming subject to talk about, your help can make a huge difference in an abused child’s life. Whether you notice the warning signs for child abuse on your own or a child comes to you for help, it’s important to be calm, reassuring and supportive. As difficult as it may be for you to talk about, remember that it is also very challenging for the child, too.

Talking to an abused child:

  • Remain calm. If a young child detects that you are shocked or disgusted about the situation, the child may be afraid to confide in you. Although it may be hard, it’s essential to be as comforting as you can.
  • Let them know they are not to blame. The child needs to be reassured that they didn’t do anything wrong, and are not at fault for the abuse they have suffered.
    This can be one of the first steps for healing from emotional abuse as a child.
  • Don’t interrogate. Be mindful not to ask too many questions or speak to the child in a harsh or demanding tone. Regardless of the child’s age, let them explain things in their own words, and respond conversationally rather than with a list of questions.
  • If you feel that your safety or the safety of the child may be at risk if you try to step in, it’s ok to leave it to professionals. . There are also steps you can take on how to report abuse.

To report Child Abuse in Los Angeles, CA, please contact DCFS Child Protection Hotline 24 hour a day, 7 days a week.


child abuse prevention


Reviewed by Jose A. Ramos Jr., Director of Prevention

Jose A. Ramos Jr., MSW, is the Director of Primary Prevention at Children’s Bureau. He has worked with Children’s Bureau since 1994 and has over 30-years of experience working in the Child Welfare field. He has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Long Beach and is earning his MBA. Jose is also Secretary of the National Association of Social Workers.

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