Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Identifying Child Abuse

As I was driving down the highway over the weekend, I was struck by a billboard with the message “Buying a teen for sex is child abuse. Turning a blind eye is neglect.”  I was stunned to see the sign.  Not stunned that sex trafficking (or any sort of child abuse or neglect) exists, but stunned that we need a sign to tell us that it’s abuse.  I suppose I just thought that would be pretty self-evident.  But…as I think back over my career with children and families, I probably shouldn’t be so surprised.  Recognizing and reporting child abuse and/or neglect has always seemed to be problematic.  We’ll talk about reporting child abuse next week, but for this week, let’s start with recognition. 

As child care providers, we’re required to report suspected child abuse, so we must know what it looks like.  We also have to ensure that everyone who works for us can identify suspected child abuse.  There are both physical and behavioral signs of possible child abuse.


  • Unexplained injuries—especially one shaped like a hand or a familiar object, or in an unusual place, like the middle of the back.
  • Constant hunger.
  • Poor hygiene or unattended physical problems.
  • Inappropriate dress for weather conditions.


  • Behavioral extremes - aggressive/withdrawn.
  • Unusual wariness of adult contact.
  • Afraid to go home.

While these signs do not mean that a child is definitely in a dangerous situation, they are indicators that need professional follow-up.  If you don’t already have a policy in place to make sure that your staff knows how to recognize the indicators of potential child abuse, check ours out here.

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