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Understanding And Dealing With
Child Abuse

Child Abuse Is Against The Law

If child abuse is evident, or there is an immediate risk or danger to a child, you should contact 911 or police immediately. 

What Is Child Abuse?

  • Physical Abuse:  Any physical injury to a child that is not accidental, such as bruises, welts, burns, cuts and broken bones.
  • Neglect:  Lack of care that risks or causes harm to a child, including lack of food, clothing, supervision or medical attention.
  • Mental Injury or Emotional Harm:  Harm to a child's ability to think, reason, or have feelings, such as cruel acts or statements, intimidation, rejection and indifference.
  • Sexual Abuse:  Any incident of sexual contact including rape, sodomy, and fondling. Sexual exploitation, including use of children for pornography and prostitution.
  • Threat of Harm:  Activities, conditions or persons that place a child at risk of abuse. Threats, domestic violence, and drug/alcohol abuse fall in this category.

What Are The Signs Of Child Abuse?

Physical Abuse

Abuse constitutes any physical injury to a child which has been caused by other than accidental means including injury which appears to be at variance with the explanation.  Abuses includes reckless and negligent use of drugs during pregnancy.

Possible Indicators

  • Bruises or welts in various stages of healing
  • Bruises or welts reflecting the shape of objects
  • Cigar or cigarette burns
  • Immersion burns that are sock like or glove like
  • Patterns burns
  • Rope burns
  • Fractures
  • Lacerations

Behavioral Indicators

  • Wary of adults
  • Apprehensive when other children cry
  • Behavioral extremes such as aggressiveness or withdrawal
  • Frightened of parents
  • Afraid to go home


Neglect is negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child which causes actual harm or substantial risk of harm to a child's health, welfare and safety.  

Possible Indicators

  • Consistent hunger, poor hygiene, inappropriate dress
  • Consistent lack of supervision
  • Unattended physical/emotional problems or medical needs

Behavioral Indicators

  • Begging, stealing food
  • Staying at school and avoiding going home
  • Constant fatigue, listlessness or falling asleep in class
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • States there is no care taker
  • Shunned by peers

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is any incident of sexual contact including, but not limited to rape, sodomy, incest, sexual penetration with a foreign object, sexual exploitation for purposes of pornography, or prostitution.

Possible Physical Indicators

  • Difficulty in walking or sitting
  • Torn, stained or bloody underclothing
  • Pain or itching in genital area
  • Bruises, bleeding or infection in external genitalia, vagina or anal areas
  • Venereal disease, especially in pre-teens

Possible Behavioral Indicators

  • Withdrawal, fantasy or infantile behavior
  • Poor peer relationships
  • Delinquent or run away behavior
  • Indirect allusions to problems at home such as "I want to live with you"
  • Reports sexual assault (children without motivation seldom lie about sexual abuse)
  • Fear of a person or an intense dislike at being left with someone
  • Unusual interest in or knowledge of sexual matters, expressing affection in ways that are inappropriate for  child of that age
  • Behavioral extremes
  • Habit disorders (sucking, biting rocking)
  • Attempted suicide
  • Conduct disorders (antisocial, run away, fire setting, destructive)
  • Emotional neediness

Threat of Harm

Threat of harm includes all activities, conditions and persons which place the child at substantial risk of physical harm or sexual abuse, neglect, or mental injury.

  • Severe expressions of intent to inflict pain, injury, evil or punishment on a child.
  • An avowed determination to injure the child presently or in the future.
  • A caretaker telling a child that independent decisions then terrifying consequences and possibly death will happen
  • Circumstances that expose children to domestic violence threatening a child's emotional or physical well-being.

What Can You Do If You Suspect Child Abuse?

If the child abuse is severe or there is an immediate risk to the child, you should contact 911 immediately.  The first thing you can do is read this handout and then take the next most appropriate step.  After you have read the entire handout there are three generally accepted steps you can take when you suspect child abuse.  The first step is to contact your local branch of Services to Children and Families (CPS) and discuss the situation.  Contacting CPS does not automatically result in an investigation.  CPS is available to discuss the situation and to offer you their opinion regarding what you should do next.  They may discuss what will most likely happen next.   In some cases CPS will direct you to contact your local law enforcement agency.   This will most likely happen during evenings, weekends and holidays.

How Can You Respond To A Child Who Reveals Their Abuse?

If there is evidence of severe abuse, an immediate danger or threat, contact 911 immediately.  For less immediate dangers, there are several steps you can take.  Tell the child that you believe them and that you are going help.  Tell them you will also need to contact people who can help.  Respect the privacy of the child. The child will need to tell their story in detail later to the investigators, so don't press the child for details. Remember, you need only suspect abuse to make a report. Don't display horror, shock, or disapproval of parents, child, or the situation. Don't place blame or make judgments about the parent or child.  Tell the child that he or she will be talking to people who will help: a CPS Child Protective Services worker or the police.  It is O.K. for now  to believe the child if she/he reports sexual abuse.  It is rare for a young child to lie about sexual abuse. An investigation is intended to either substantiate the allegation or reveal what really happened.  If you, or the child are in counseling or therapy, you may want to discuss your next steps   privately with the child's counselor or therapist.

What Information Do You Need To Report Suspected Child Abuse?

If known, a report of suspected child abuse shall include the name, age, and address of the child and his/her parents or other persons responsible for the child's care.  The nature and extent of abuse, including any evidence of previous abuse and any explanation given by caretakers for injuries should also be reported.   Include all information which you believe might be helpful in establishing the cause of the abuse and for identifying the abuser.  CPS and especially Law Enforcement tends to pursue cases more intensely if there is evidence of physical harm or a credible report by the child.  Be sure to report the nature and extent of  physical harm that you are aware of.

Dated: December 30, 2007

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