Signs of Child Abuse & Neglect

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, which means we will be putting extra care and attention to education & resources all about supporting kids to have safe and thriving lives. Today, we’re breaking down signs of child abuse and neglect, but keep in mind, that just because you see one sign does not mean maltreatment is happening. Please be mindful that other factors can account for some of these signs and are not equivalent to abuse/neglect, including poverty, domestic violence, homelessness, and untreated mental illness.

General Signs

  • Change in behavior that is not normal for this child (i.e. A reserved child acting out)
  • Not receiving medical attention
  • Troubling focusing and problem solving
  • Appearing observant and cautious
  • Lacks supervision
  • Is passive or overly accommodating
  • Goes to activities early or late
  • Desire to not go home or be around a particular person
  • When a parent shows little concern or care for the child
  • When the parent has unrealistic and harsh expectations of a child
  • Use of harsh physical discipline

Physical Abuse

  • Injuries that cannot otherwise be explained including: Burns, bites, bruising, broken or sprained bones
  • Bruises in various stages of healing, or other noticeable marks
  • Appearing scared, anxious, angry/aggressive, depressed, withdrawn, or overly attached
  • Hides from adult and shows ambivalence in going home
  • Fluctuations or changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Harms animals, pets, or other children


  • Absent form school, after school programs, or other activities
  • Hoards or steals food and other resources
  • Doesn’t have adequate and up-to-date medical care
  • Consistently dirty, torn clothes, poor body odor
  • Uses alcohol and/or other substances

Sexual Abuse

  • Reports stomach pain
  • Has difficulty walking or sitting
  • Genital area has bleeding, bruising, swelling
  • Refusal to participate in school and other events
  • Nightmares
  • Young pregnancy or STD contraction
  • Running away
  • Overly and immediately attached to new people
  • Bedwetting
  • Destroying or damaging toys
  • Changes in eating and sleep habits
  • Abnormal sexual knowledge or behavior

Emotional Abuse

  • Difficulty forming emotional relationship with others
  • Overly accommodating or compliant, or extremely aggressive
  • Parentified or acting infantile
  • Physical and emotional developmental delays
  • Depression (Low motivation, interest, activity)
  • Suicidal thoughts

In recognizing these signs, we can identify child abuse and neglect before it worsens or continues, and help children in healing and moving forward. Again, just because it’s a sign of abuse does not mean abuse is occurring. There are many other factors to consider, and it’s important to rule out medical concern, mental or behavioral health concerns, and/or parental mental health and safety issues. This is merely a starting point to support children and make sure their voice is heard.

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