Signs of Abuse/Neglect



  • Physical Neglect is the failure to provide for a child's basic survival needs, such as nutrition, clothing, shelter, hygiene, and medical care. Physical neglect may also involve inadequate supervision of a child and other forms of reckless disregard of the child's safety and welfare.
  • Educational Neglect is the failure of a parent or caregiver to enroll a child of mandatory school age in school or to provide appropriate homeschooling or needed special education training.
  • Medical Neglect is the failure to provide or to allow needed care as recommended by a competent health-care professional for a physical injury, illness, medical condition, or impairment. It also includes the failure to seek timely and appropriate medical care for a serious health problem that any reasonable person would have recognized as needing professional medical attention.
  • Chronic Neglect is any type of child neglect that occurs on a recurring or enduring basis.


  • Frequent physical injuries that are attributed to the child’s being clumsy or accident-prone
  • Injuries that do not seem to fit the explanation given by the parents or child
  • Conflicting explanations provided by child and/or caregivers, explanations that do not fit the injuries, or injuries attributed to accidents that could not have occurred given the child’s age (for example, an immersion burn on a child too young to walk or crawl)
  • Habitual absence from or lateness to school without a credible reason. Parents may keep a child at home until physical evidence of abuse has healed. One should also be suspicious if a child comes to school wearing long-sleeved or high-collared clothing on hot days, since this may be an attempt to hide injuries
  • Awkward movements or difficulty walking; this may suggest that the child is in pain or suffers from the after-effects of repeated injuries.  


Children often show us rather than tell us that something is upsetting them. There may be many reasons for changes in their behavior, but if we notice a combination of worrying signs below it may be time to call for help or advice.
  • Acting out in an inappropriate sexual way with toys or objects
  • Nightmares, sleeping problems
  • Becoming withdrawn or very clingy
  • Becoming unusually secretive
  • Sudden unexplained personality changes, mood swings and seeming insecure
  • Regressing to younger behaviors, e.g. bedwetting
  • Unaccountable fear of particular places or people
  • Outburst of anger
  • Changes in eating habits
  • New adult words for body parts and no obvious source
  • Talk of a new, older friend and unexplained money or gifts
  • Self-harm (cutting, burning or other harmful activities)
  • Physical signs, such as, unexplained soreness or bruises around genitals or mouth, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy
  • Running away

Physical warning signs

Physical signs of sexual abuse are rare, however, if you see these signs, take your child to a doctor. Your doctor can help you understand what may be happening and test for sexually transmitted diseases. 

  • Pain, discoloration, bleeding or discharges in genitals, anus, or mouth
  • Persistent or recurring pain during urination and bowel movements
  • Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training 


Signs of emotional abuse in a child may include:

  • Being fearful of parent
  • Saying they hate the parent
  • Talking badly about themselves (“I’m stupid”)
  • Seeming emotionally immature when compared to peers
  • Exhibiting sudden changes in speech, such as stuttering
  • Experiencing sudden change in behavior, such as doing poorly in school 

Signs in a parent or caregiver include:

  • Showing little or no regard for the child
  • Talking badly about the child
  • Not touching or holding the child affectionately
  • Not tending to the child’s medical needs