Parenting Tip of the Week – Warning Signs of Abuse and Neglect

During April, there are a lot more people interested than normal in child abuse and neglect! One of the most common questions we get from caregivers is about knowing what to do if you suspect abuse or neglect is happening to a child you know. Many parents, caregivers and others who work with youth are confused about the signs of abuse and neglect. These tips should help.

Know the signs of abuse and neglect

The most important fact to understand is that child abuse and neglect happens in communities all across the country. Whether these communities are urban or rural, rich or poor, all parents, caregivers, and youth mentors should know the warning signs of child abuse and neglect and how to appropriately respond.

There are different kinds of abuse, including physical, sexual and emotional, and children who experience these kinds of abuse may not show the exact same warning signs. However, there are some indicators that can signal abuse in any form. Some of the major signs are when a child:

  • Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance;
  • Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention;
  • Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen;
  • Lacks adult supervision; and
  • Appears afraid or hesitant to go home after school.

For more information on the various warning signs of abuse, read Recognizing Child Abuse: What Parents Should Know.

It’s very important to note that none of these signs prove that child abuse is happening. Any one of these indicators can be found in any parent or child at one time or another. However, when these signs appear repeatedly or in combination, that is a good time to take a second look.

What can I do if I think a child is being abused?

If you think a child is being abused or at risk of abuse, the most important step you can take is to report it. If you suspect a child is being or has been physically abused, please call 1-800-4-A-Child. This is the number for the ChildHelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline, which is staffed 24 hours a day, every day, and is available in 170 different languages. All calls to the hotline are confidential, and by calling you can find more information, literature, and referrals to thousands of emergency, social service, and support resources.

If you need immediate assistance, call 911. State specific information, including toll-free numbers and websites, can be found via Child Welfare Information Gateway.

What else can I do?

Now that you’re thinking about the warning signs of child abuse and neglect and how to respond, we hope you’re also thinking about how to ensure no child ever experiences abuse or neglect in the first place. Intervening in abusive situations is critical, but interventions won’t stop child abuse and neglect. Only by working to create the context for healthy communities and relationships can we ensure that no child experiences abuse or neglect in the future.

If you want to do more to support children and families in your community and prevent abuse before it ever occurs in the first place, visit our Child Abuse Prevention Month landing page, where you will find information and resources to help you get involved in your local communities this April.

How have you made a difference this April? Let us know by tweeting us @PCAAmerica or by leaving a comment on our Facebook page (and don’t forget to add a blue pinwheel badge to your profile to show the world you support great childhoods)!