Recognizing Abuse and What to Do About It
Helping a Child
Many people are afraid of reporting child abuse because of the prevalent attitudes that someone else’s children are either “their responsibility” or “their property”. They think,” I don’t want the person I reported to know,” or “It’s not my business.” The truth is, without aware adults, some children might never receive help. Be an advocate for children by knowing the signs of abuse and reporting child abuse. Remember, always report suspicion of child abuse. Even if you aren’t sure, it’s better to let authorities check it out. You might save a child’s life!
Signs of Child Abuse
When you have concerns for a child’s well-being, the indicators listed below may help guide you in your thought process. Many of these “symptoms” or “signs” could be caused by things other than the abuse or neglect. Generally, these signs do indicate that a child’s safety may be at risk and, at the very least, the situation should be assessed by a professional who is able to determine the causes of the symptoms and offer the help and assistance necessary to reduce the risk to a child.
Signs of Physical Abuse
- Unexplained bruises and/or welts on the face, throat, upper arms, buttocks, thighs or lower back in unusual patterns or shapes which suggests the use of an instrument (belt buckle, electric cord) in various stages of healing that are seen after absences, weekends, or vacations.
- Unexplained burns, cigarette burns, especially burns found on palms, soles of feet, abdomen, buttocks; immersion burns producing “stocking” or “glove” marks on hands and feet, “doughnut shaped” on buttocks or genital area.
- Rope burns.
- Infected burns indicating delay in treatment; burns in the shape of common household utensils or appliances.
- Behavioral extremes (withdrawal, aggression, regression, depression).
- Inappropriate or excessive fear of parent or caretaker.
- Antisocial behavior such as substance abuse, truancy, running away, fear of going home.
- Lays unusually still while surveying surroundings (for infants).
- Unusual shyness, wariness of physical contact.
Signs of Sexual Abuse
- Torn, stained or bloody underclothes.
- Frequent, unexplained sore throats, yeast or urinary infections.
- Somatic complaints, including pain or irritation of the genitals.
- Sexually transmitted diseases.
- Bruises or bleeding from external genitalia, vagina or anal region.
- The victim’s disclosure of sexual abuse.
- Regressive behaviors (thumb-sucking, bedwetting, fear of the dark).
- Disturbed sleep patterns (recurrent nightmares).
- Unusual and age-inappropriate interest in sexual matters.
- Avoidance of undressing or wearing extra layers of clothes.
- Difficulty in walking or sitting.
Signs of Emotional Abuse
- Eating disorders, including obesity or anorexia.
- Speech disorders (stuttering, stammering).
- Developmental delays in the acquisition of speech or motor skills.
- Weight or height level substantially below norm.
- Nervous disorders (rashes, hives, facial tics, stomach aches).
- Habit disorders (biting, rocking, head-banging).
- Cruel behavior, seeming to get pleasure from hurting children, adults or animals; seeming to get pleasure from being mistreated.
- Age-inappropriate behaviors (bedwetting, wetting, soiling).
- Behavioral extremes, such as overly compliant-demanding; withdrawn-aggressive, listless-excitable.
Signs of Neglect
- Poor hygiene, including lice, scabies, severe or untreated diaper rash, bedsores, body odor.
- Unsuitable clothing; missing key articles of clothing (underwear, socks, shoes); overdressed or under-dressed for climate conditions.
- Untreated injury or illness.
- Lack of immunizations.
- Indicators of prolonged exposure to elements (excessive sunburn, insect bites, colds).
- Height and weight significantly below age level.
- Unusual school attendance.
- Chronic absenteeism.
- Chronic hunger, tiredness, or lethargy.
- Begging for or collecting leftovers.
- Assuming adult responsibilities.
- Reporting adult responsibilities.
- Reporting no caretaker at home.
Remember, no listing of abuse or neglect indicators can include all signs. Please use your best judgment.
Things You Can Do to Help Prevent Child Abuse
Suggestions from the Child Welfare League of America
- Volunteer your time. Get involved with other parents in your community. Help vulnerable children and their families. Start a playgroup.
- Discipline your children thoughtfully. Never discipline your child when you are upset. Give yourself sometime to calm down.
- Examine your behavior. Abuse is not just physical. Both words and actions can inflict deep lasting wounds.
- Teach children their rights. When children are taught they are special and have the right to be safe, they are less likely to think abuse is their fault, and more likely to report an offender.
- Support prevention programs. Too often, intervention occurs only after abuse is reported.
- Know what child abuse is. Physical and sexual abuse clearly constitutes maltreatment, but so does neglect, or the failure of parents or other caregivers to provide a child with needed food, clothing and care.
- Know the signs. Unexplained injuries aren’t the only signs of abuse. Depression, emotional and behavioral changes such as those listed above can also indicate abuse.
- Report abuse. If you witness a child being harmed or see evidence of abuse, or if a child tells you about abuse, make a report to the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department
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