How To Identify Child Abuse

What are signs of child abuse?

Child abuse refers to the continued maltreatment or neglect of a child or children by acts of commission or omission on the part of either a parent or other caregiver, which often result in harm, potential for harm or threat of harm to that particular child.

Child abuse can either take place in a child's home or in the organizations, schools or committees that the child interacts with.

Categories Of Child Abuse

Child abuse falls under various categories, depending on who instigates the abuse. Some of the common categories of child abuse are the following;

Physical abuse - This form of child abuse is characterized by excessive physical punishment of a child. Physical abuse may result in grievous bodily harm to the child, permanent deformity or even death of the child.

Emotional abuse - A child is said to be abused emotionally if that child is denied the basic channels to express his/her feelings. Like grown-ups, children need to communicate some of their feelings emotionally. One common form of emotional abuse happens in many homes when a child may be looking for an emotional attachment to a father who is too committed to his work to give any thought to family needs. Unknowingly, the father may be abusing the child by denying him/her the emotional support needed.

Psychological abuse - Consider the case of a child who is struggling to learn but instead of being encouraged by his/her teacher, all the teacher can do is find a million reasons as to why the child cannot become anything in the society, and heap these reasons on the child. This, plus any kind of action that weighs down on a child's self-esteem is deemed as psychological abuse.

Sexual abuse - This form of child abuse has emerged as the most rampant in the society today, and it entails coercing a child into a sexual stimulation that may range from indecent genitalia exposure to full-blown sexual intercourse.

Neglect - Neglect refers to the willful abandonment of a child who is legally one's responsibility. A child may be abandoned by being denied the basic human needs namely; food, shelter, clothing, medical attention and education.

Signs Of Child Abuse

There are many signs of child abuse, and these signs normally depend of the form of abuse meted on the child. However, there are those signs that will stand out for any form of child abuse, and these signs are the following;

  • Behavior changes characterized by fear or resentment of certain individuals and places, aggression or withdrawal and increased anxiety and depression.
  • Overly sexual behavior characterized by explicit use of sexual language that is not appropriate for the child's age, indecent sexual exposure and unexplained resentment of the opposite sex.
  • Distortion of sleeping patterns, characterized by frequent nightmares, discontinuous sleep and difficulty falling asleep.
  • Changes in school performance and attendance, often characterized by frequent absences, lack of concentration in classes which consequently result in a drop in the child's grades.
  • Erratic eating habits that normally result in unusual weight gain or weight loss.
  • Visible unexplained injuries such as burns, bruises or broken bones.
  • Drug abuse and alcoholism.
  • Movement problems characterized by difficulty in maintaining an upright gait, difficulty in walking and sitting problems.
  • Change in the child's social life that may involve getting in with a new circle of friends, especially those particularly known for bad behavior.
  • ersonal development problems such as difficulty forming relationships, public speaking problems and low self-esteem.

Reporting Child Abuse

As rampant as it is, many people still do not know how to go about reporting cases of child abuse. Needless to mention, anybody can report child abuse, and it is not a prerogative of those in authority. In almost all societies, the perpetrators are normally left having a field day while the child wallows in agony. Many people often fear to report child abuse cases due to some of the following reasons;

  • Belief that another person will speak up and take some action.
  • Belief that making a report might impact negatively on the relationship one has with the child or the suspect.
  • Fear that a report might worsen the situation.
  • Concern not to upset the involved family.
  • Choosing to intervene at a personal level instead of pursuing the matter with the established formal institutions.
  • Sheer unwillingness to get involved.

Despite these hurdles, a few brave individuals still go ahead to report child abuse cases. However, the channels followed or the manner in which the reports are made may still prove difficult in obtaining justice for the child.

The first question anyone who wishes to report child abuse must ask themselves is, 'to whom will I report the abuse?' At all cost, the person to whom the abuse is reported must not be an interested party. This means if an abuse is meted on a child by a father, for instance, the abuse cannot be reported to any member of the family, less so the mother. This position is advocated in order to allow for ample space to pursue justice for the child without having a clouded judgement. The following therefore are some of the people a child abuse should be reported to;

  • Physical health practitioners.
  • Mental health practitioners.
  • School administrators.
  • Volunteers in social services such as adoption, counseling, teenage pregnancy etc.
  • Emergency response personnel such as fire fighters.

When reporting child abuse, there is often pertinent information that the reporter has to avail. Usually, many people desist from saying much for fear of being held to account of it. Here are some crucial information that should always be provided when making child abuse reports;

  • Relationship one has with the child.
  • Name, age and physical address of the child.
  • Name, age physical address and description of the suspect and relationship they have with the child.
  • Name and address of the child's parents.
  • Description of suspected form of abuse.
  • Current assessment of the child's safety level.
  • The child's history of abuse.
  • Names and physical addresses of other witnesses if any.

Once all this information has been provided and put on record, the child is then put through the required medical or psychological attention, as room is created for justice to take its due course.

At times, one may not be conversant with the procedure for reporting child abuse cases. In such situations, child hotlines come in handy. Should you find yourself in such a situation, well, here are some numbers you can dial, most of which are toll-free;

- The Child help National Child Abuse Hotline:1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).

- The New York State Central Register of Child Abuse & Maltreatment:800.342.3720.

- Video Phone Only for Deaf Callers: 206.518.9361


Child abuse may appear like an ill that's not likely to go away any time soon. Like many though, it starts and ends with a change of attitude. Everyone can help a child overcome the trauma caused by abuse, if not help in guarding against the actual occurrence of the abuse.