Signs of Neglect or Abuse

Reporting child abuse and neglect is everyone’s responsibility. Children need us to pay attention to some of the common signs of possible child abuse or neglect. If you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected, please call the local department of social services in your area.

Potential Signs of Physical Abuse

A child who exhibits any of the following signs may be a victim of physical abuse:

  • Has unexplained injuries/marks, such as burns, bites, bruises, broken bones, or black eyes
  • Is reluctant to explain injuries after returning home from being in someone else’s care
  • Seems scared, anxious, depressed, withdrawn, or aggressive
  • Seems frightened of a parent or parents and protests or cries when it is time to go home
  • Shrinks at the approach of adults
  • Shows unusual changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Reports injury or abuse by a parent or another adult caregiver
  • Abuses animals or pets

Consider the possibility of physical abuse when a parent or other caregiver:

  • Offers conflicting, unconvincing, or no explanation for a child’s injury or provides an explanation that is inconsistent with an injury
  • Shows little concern for a child or a child’s injuries
  • Sees a child as entirely bad, burdensome, or worthless
  • Uses harsh physical discipline with a child
  • Has a history of abusing animals or pets

Potential Signs of Neglect

A child who exhibits the following signs may be a victim of neglect:

  • Is frequently absent from school
  • Begs or steals food or money
  • Lacks needed medical care, including dental or vision care
  • Is consistently dirty and has severe body odor
  • Lacks sufficient clothing for the weather
  • Abuses alcohol or other drugs
  • States that there is no one at home to provide care

Consider the possibility of neglect when a parent or other caregiver:

  • Appears to be indifferent to a child
  • Seems apathetic or depressed
  • Behaves irrationally or in a bizarre manner
  • Abuses alcohol or other drugs
  • Repeatedly leaves younger children outside or alone with no visible caregiver

Potential Signs of Sexual Abuse

A child who exhibits any of the following signs may be a victim of sexual abuse:

  • Has difficulty walking or sitting
  • Experiences bleeding, bruising, or swelling in the genital area
  • Suddenly refuses to go to school
  • Reports nightmares or wets the bed
  • Engages in self-harm, including cutting, burning, or otherwise hurting his or herself
  • Has a sudden change in appetite or shows signs of an eating disorder
  • Demonstrates bizarre, sophisticated, or unusual sexual knowledge or behavior or displays inappropriate sexual behavior with other children or adults
  • Becomes pregnant or contracts a sexually transmitted disease, particularly if under age 14
  • Runs away
  • Reports sexual abuse by a parent or another adult caregiver
  • Attaches very quickly to strangers or new adults in their environment

Consider the possibility of sexual abuse when a parent or other caregiver:

  • Tries to be a child’s friend rather than maintaining an appropriate adult role
  • Repeatedly compliments the child’s physical appearance or requests pictures inappropriate to the adult’s role
  • Flatters the child into thinking that their relationship is a secret or romantic
  • Makes up excuses to be alone with a child
  • Talks with a child about the adult’s personal problems or relationships
  • Exposes a child to inappropriate media of a sexual nature, including pornography

Potential Signs of Mental Injury

A child who exhibits the following signs may be a victim of mental injury:

  • Shows extremes in behavior, such as being overly compliant or demanding, extremely passive, or aggressive
  • Either inappropriately assumes the role of an adult in the home (e.g., parents or protects other children), acts inappropriately infantile, or engages in self-harm, including display of repetitive behaviors such as rocking or head-banging
  • Does not seem to be attached to the parent/caregiver
  • Demonstrates a noticeable decline in cognitive abilities or self care

Consider the possibility of mental injury when the parent or other adult caregiver:

  • Constantly blames, belittles, or berates the child
  • Describes the child negatively
  • Overtly rejects the child
  • Excessively takes an apparently healthy child for medical appointments with different doctors or experts, seemingly rejecting the advice of medical professionals

If you suspect a child is being harmed, reporting your suspicions may protect the child and help the family receive assistance. Any concerned person can report a suspicion of child abuse or neglect. Reporting your concerns is not making an accusation; rather, it is a request for an investigation or assessment to determine if help is needed. You do not need actual proof of child abuse or neglect; it is the responsibility of the local department of social services to determine if abuse or neglect occurred. You have the absolute right to remain anonymous as a reporter.

You can find the number to make a report at the following link:

http://dhs.mymdthink.maryland.gov/blog/child-protective-services/reporting-suspected-child-abuse-or-neglect/local-offices/