Indicators of Child Abuse

Indicators of Emotional Abuse

There may be physical indicators that a child is being emotionally abused. Some examples of this are:

  • Bed-wetting or bed soiling that has no medical cause
  • Frequent psychosomatic complaints (e.g. headaches, nausea, abdominal pains)
  • Prolonged vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Has not attained significant developmental milestones
  • Dressed differently from other children in the family
  • Has deprived physical living conditions compared with other children in the family

There may also be behavioural indicators that child or young person is being emotionally abused. Some examples of this are:

  • Suffers from severe developmental gaps
  • Severe symptoms of depression, anxiety, withdrawal or aggression
  • Severe symptoms of self-destructive behaviour – self-harming, suicide attempts, engaging in drug or alcohol abuse
  • Overly compliant; too well-mannered; too neat and clean
  • Displays attention seeking behaviours or displays extreme inhibition in play
  • When at play, behaviour may model or copy negative behaviour and language used at home

There may be indicators in adult behaviour that could indicate emotional abuse. Some examples of this are:

  • Constantly calls the child or young person names, labels the child or publicly humiliates the child
  • Continually threatens the child or young person with physical harm or forces the child to witness physical harm inflicted on a loved one
  • Has unrealistic expectations of the child or young person
  • Involves the child or young person in “adult issues”, such as separation or access issues
  • Keeps the child or young person at home in a role of subservient or surrogate parent

Indicators of Neglect

There may be physical indicators that a child or young person is being neglected. Some examples of this are:

  • Inappropriate dress for the weather
  • Extremely dirty or unbathed
  • Inadequately supervised or left alone for unacceptable periods of time
  • Malnourished
  • May have severe nappy rash or other persistent skin disorders or rashes resulting from improper care or lack of hygiene

There may also be behavioural indicators that child or young person is being neglected. Some examples of this are:

  • Demonstrates severe lack of attachment to other adults
  • Poor school attendance or school performance
  • Poor social skills
  • May steal food
  • Is very demanding of affection or attention
  • Has no understanding of basic hygiene

There may be indicators in adult behaviour that could indicate neglect. Some examples of this are:

  • Fails to provide for the child or young person’s basic needs, such as housing, nutrition, medical and psychological care
  • Fails to enrol a child or young person in school or permits absenteeism
  • Leaves the child home alone
  • Is overwhelmed with own problems and puts own needs ahead of the child or young person’s needs

Indicators of Physical Abuse

There may be physical indicators that a child or young person is being physically abused. Some examples of this are:

  • Unexplained bruises, welts, cuts, abrasions
  • Unexplained burns
  • Unexplained fractures or disclosures

There may also be behavioural indicators that child or young person is being physically abused. Some examples of this are:

  • Is wary of adults or of a particular individual
  • Is violent to animals or other children or young people
  • Is dressed inappropriately to hide bruises or other injuries
  • May be extremely aggressive or extremely withdrawn
  • Cannot recall how the injuries occurred or gives inconsistent explanations

There may be indicators in adult behaviour that could indicate physical abuse. Some examples of this are:

  • May be vague about the details of the cause of injury and the account of the injury may change from time to time
  • May blame the accident on a sibling, friend, relative or the injured child or young person
  • Shakes an infant
  • Threats or attempts to injure a child or young person
  • Is aggressive towards a child in front of others
  • May delay in seeking medical attention for a child or young person

Indicators of Sexual Abuse

There may be physical indicators that a child or young person is being sexually abused. Some examples of this are:

  • Torn, stained or bloody underclothing
  • Bruises, lacerations, redness, swelling or bleeding in genital, vaginal or anal area
  • Blood in urine or faeces
  • Sexually transmitted disease
  • Unusual or excessive itching or pain in the genital or anal area

There may also be behavioural indicators that child or young person is being sexually abused. Some examples of this are:

  • Age-inappropriate sexual play with toys, self, others
  • Bizarre, sophisticated or unusual sexual knowledge
  • Comments such as “I’ve got a secret”, or “I don’t like uncle”
  • Fire lighting by boys
  • Fear of certain places e.g. bedroom or bathroom

Some examples of this in older children or young people are:

  • Eating disorders
  • Promiscuity or prostitution
  • Uses younger children in sexual acts
  • Tries to make self as unattractive as possible

There may be indicators in adult behaviour that could indicate sexual abuse. Some examples of this are:

  • May be unusually over-protective of a child or young person
  • Is jealous of a child or young person’s relationships with peers or other adults or is controlling of the child or young person
  • May favour the victim over other children
  • Demonstrates physical contact or affection to a child or young person which appears sexual in nature or has sexual overtones