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Do you know a child who might be experiencing neglect or abuse?

Many people avoid this question, fearing that the answer will lead them to an emotionally draining situation they’d rather not experience. It is understandable to have this typical knee-jerk response, especially if you’ve always thought that the child is perfectly safe and happy in your care. However, as the responsible adult in the child’s life, you must take action and protect the child immediately. Learning to spot the signs of child abuse and knowing how to handle the situation can make or break the case, whether you’re dealing with a student, a friend’s child, or your own.

For example, excessive alcohol use is a significant factor in many child abuse incidences. Misuse of alcohol has also been linked to a higher risk of child abuse. Those who engage in excessive alcohol consumption are more susceptible to impaired judgment, impulse control, and emotional regulation issues.

The United States National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare (NCSACW) reported that 38.9% of confirmed child maltreatment cases in 2019 were related to the abuse of alcohol or other drugs. Knowing this information and that physical and sexual abuse against children can be charged as a felony or gross misdemeanor can help you respond to suspected child harm cases better. Suppose you’re a parent, guardian, or teacher and suspect that a child under your care is being harmed. In that case, you should know the signs of abuse to watch out for and the steps to take to protect the child. Moreover, you must also familiarize yourself with the resources for reporting child abuse cases. For instance, you can quickly access such resources online from the websites of government and nonprofit organizations. This article lists and explains signs that a child is experiencing abuse. It also proposes ways you can address a potential child-abuse scenario.

How to Address Suspected Child Abuse Cases

How you deal with suspected child abuse cases depends on the urgency and severity of the situation. If the child shows signs of severe injury or is currently in danger, call 911 or other emergency hotlines immediately. If you have reason to believe that a child experiences abuse, maltreatment, or neglect, contact the local child protection services or other lawful authorities in your area.

Remember, the child’s safety takes priority over any other concerns you fear you might face. Here are some examples of child abuse:

  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical harm
  • Abusive language or threats
  • Neglect
  • Psychological damage

Note that neglect may happen when children, especially very young ones, are out and about by themselves or left alone unsupervised for long periods. These children usually appear physically ill, malnourished, or starved.

Below are other indicators of child abuse:

  • Unexplained injuries: Object-shaped burns or bruises may be signs of physical abuse. Abusers may inflict injury on the child in many ways, including punching, hitting, slapping, kicking, pinching, burning, and using weapons. You may not see the physical signs of abuse because the abuser may have inflicted injuries to areas of the body that are usually covered.Children may also give unconvincing explanations for their injuries.
  • Returning to earlier behaviors: Abused children may display behaviors from earlier ages, including thumb-sucking, bedwetting, and fear of the dark. Some children may also experience memory or language loss.
  • Fear of going home or elsewhere: Abused children may express anxiety or apprehension about leaving school or going places with their abuser.
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviors: Sexually abused children often display overtly sexualized behavior.
  • Risky behaviors: Abused youth may engage in high-risk activities, such as drug use, alcohol consumption, or possession of weapons.
  • Suspicious or atypical parental behavior: Generally, negligent, or abusive parents show little concern for their children, use harsh physical discipline, and restrict their children’s social interactions.

However, you can also look for subtle signs of abusive or negligent parental behavior. For instance, some parents would expect their child to provide attention and care to them and appear jealous of other family members receiving the child’s attention. Another subtle indicator is when a parent frequently requests medical tests, such as X-rays and lab tests, for concerns that are not apparent during the healthcare provider’s examination.

If you think a child is being hurt or neglected, you must act immediately and get help. Fortunately, many resources exist to help guide you through the process and ensure that the child is safe and sound. You can access the following websites and other online resources for more information on how to deal with suspected child abuse cases: