Detecting Child Abuse
Signs of Abuse & Negligence
Not every child will have obvious signs of abuse. However, there are some injuries that should be carefully evaluated for physical or sexual abuse and neglect.
- Bruises, lacerations, or burns to protected, fleshy, or flexor surfaces—for example, inner thighs, abdomen, neck, and sides of the face, ears, and genitalia.
- Bruises, lacerations, or burns showing an object pattern—for example, belt loop, cigarette burn, and curling iron.
- Severe deep or extensive burns especially scald burns. (When no explanation or vague explanation is offered).
- Arms or legs that are swollen, painful, crooked (suggesting a fracture), or not being used by the child.
- A child that appears to be intoxicated or drugged.
- Child (or witness) that tells you they have been hit in the face, hit with an object, whipped, punched, slapped, kicked, or beaten.
- A child who is fearful of their parent or caretaker.
- Any history, statement, or witnessed incident consistent with sexual abuse.
- Most sexually abused children will not present with acute injuries or other material evidence. “Normal” does NOT mean “Nothing happened!”
- Children are left unsupervised in environments that are potentially dangerous or lethal.
- Children that appear malnourished, starved, and/or who demonstrate deprivation behaviors such as begging for food or eating out of the trash.
- Failure to protect or failure to provide the basic needs of the child; for example, soft drink in a baby's bottle, child found alone in the street, parenting while intoxicated.
- Adult violence, including domestic violence, in the home.
- Caretakers that are intoxicated (drugs or alcohol).
Common Responses of Victims & Abusers
During the initial report or investigation of child abuse, there are common phrases that are red flags and should have further investigation.
- Denial of any knowledge regarding child’s injury - “I have no idea how she hurt her head; her 2-year-old brother plays rough with her.”
- Vague explanation - “I think she was choking or something because she made a funny noise. I patted her back.”
- Conflicting explanation - “She fell out of her car seat last week and today she stopped breathing and turned blue.”
- Changing explanation initial history -“3-year-old cousin pushed her off the tricycle,” history 2 days later: “She fell on the stairs.”
- Partial admission - “I dropped the baby by accident.”
- Denial of any knowledge regarding child’s injury - “I left to go to work and when I came home, he said she wouldn’t wake up.”
- Defensive of the abuser - “I know he didn’t hurt her because he said he loved her like his own daughter.”
- Evasive -“He gets mad sometimes and he has pushed me once before, a long time ago, but has never hurt me since.”
- Witness - “I heard the baby crying and when he went into the room her cry changed like she was hurt.”
- Denial - “I don’t know how I got those bruises on my back.”
- Protective of the abuser - “I got those bruises when I was crawling under the fence. I made up the part about my dad whipping me ‘cause I was mad at him for yelling at me.”
- Truthful - “My dad got mad because I got in trouble at school for talking. He hit me with the belt 10 times.”
- Siblings of victims who witness abuse
- Denial of any knowledge of how the victim was injured.