Signs of child abuse
Dr. Leslie Quinn is a Banner Children's forensic pediatrician at Cardon Children’s Medical Center. For more information on this topic, talk with your doctor.
Question: I’m worried that one of my child’s friends is being abused. Are there specific signs I should look for?
Answer: Children who are being abused or neglected often show signs of physical harm. Others may demonstrate certain changes in their personalities or actions. However, a behavioral change isn’t a reliable way to identify abuse because children experience many developmental changes. A change might indicate something is wrong, but abuse is just one of many potential reasons. It is best to trust your instincts and share what you know or have observed with experts who can evaluate the situation.
Abused children may have bruises or burns, sometimes in the shapes of objects, or other injuries like a broken bone. Also, their explanations for having those injuries may lack sense. School or daycare attendance might be inconsistent because the caregiver may keep the child home to prevent the abuse injuries from being seen. Some children might be scared to be with the person who is abusing them, and others become overly compliant in an effort to please their abusers.
From a behavioral perspective, a child who once seemed happy might become withdrawn, aggressive, sad, or anxious. Sometimes the abused child regresses and begins wetting the bed, develops unexplained fears, or starts sucking a thumb again. Older children may be more willing to engage in risky behavior, such as talking about or actually using weapons or drugs. But these changes can be signs of an entirely different problem.
Keeping our children safe should be our top priority. If a child shares a story of abuse, listen carefully, assure the child you believe him or her, and leave the detailed questions to the experts. Always report any safety concerns to the child’s school, your local police department, or Child Protective Services, so the appropriate authorities can take action.