The Centers for Disease Control define child maltreatment as any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a parent or other caregiver that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child. There are different kinds of child abuse: physical, sexual, or emotional. Neglect, which can be benign or deliberate, is also child abuse.
If you believe a child is the victim of abuse, whether that is from a family friend, neighbor, co-parent, etc, check your suspicions against these compiled lists of common indicators. One or more of these indicators should prompt a closer look at the child and the child’s environment. It is important to remember that many of the indicators may be observed in children where abuse is not occurring. However, a history of suspicious injuries, patterns of behavior, and verbal reports of abuse are all key elements in recognizing possible abuse or neglect.
Discipline is administered by a parent in order to teach a child right from wrong, or to prevent the child from injuring himself. It is consistent and not carried out to satisfy the parent’s anger. Abuse, on the other hand, is unpredictable and stems from the parent’s own need to lash out in anger or frustration.
Discipline does not require the use of any implement, such as a belt or stick, and should not leave bruises or draw blood. A few signs of abuse could be:
- Unexplained bruises or welts especially on face, lips, back, buttocks, and thighs
- Bruises in various stages of healing.
- Unexplained burns: cigar, cigarette burns (especially on soles of feet, palms, back, or buttocks).
- Immersion burns (sock-like, glove-like burns on buttocks or genitalia).
- Pattern burns (shaped like an iron, electrical stove burner, curling wand, etc.)
- Internal injuries
- Unexplained fractures/dislocations
- Unexplained lacerations or abrasions
- Head injuries
- Unexplained bald patches
- Obvious attempts to hide bruises or injuries
- Inappropriate clothing for the weather
- Excessive school absenteeism
- Fear of parents or adults
- Running away
- Arriving to school early/leaving late
- Behavioral extremes: extremely aggressive, oppositional, demanding
- Behavioral extremes: overly compliant, passive, withdrawn
- Academic/behavioral problems at school
- Cognitive impairment
- Deficits in speech and language
- Lack of basic trust in others
- Depression, low self esteem
- Destructive behavior
- Suicidal tendencies
What Do I Do if I Suspect Abuse?
In the event you suspect a child is in danger, there are key elements to remember in order to get the best help and best results quickly.
- Stay calm. This is important. Do not let your emotions dictate your actions, and do not release your emotions onto persons who are supposed to investigate your case (Children’s Protective Services, law enforcement, etc.)
- If this is an emergency: Call 911 or your local police.
- Document everything from this point forward, including times, dates, and places. This may seem a little over the top, but it is completely necessary for making a case later.
- Collect and keep all documents from all professionals who have an opinion about the child abuse. This includes therapists, doctors, policemen, and teachers. If a professional informs you that they have an opinion or a suspicion of child abuse, have them document that suspicion, preferably in the form of an affidavit. Be sure to get a copy of any opinions from professionals regarding your child’s case.
- Have your child evaluated. Talk to medical and psychology professionals. If possible, have your child evaluated at a Child Assessment Center (CAC). (Also online in Spanish)
- Begin investigation. This part can sometime feel scary but it is important. Talk to your local law enforcement – SHERIFF, CONSTABLE or police — to initiate an investigation into the allegation of child abuse. Any reasonable belief of abuse or neglect should be reported to the police. Ask if the abuse you suspect is a crime.
- Talk to Child Protective Services (CPS). If Law Enforcement tells you the abuse is not criminal, talk to your local CPS (sometimes called DFPS) to initiate an investigation into the allegation of child abuse.Report Abuse in Travis County Online: Texas Abuse Hotline
- Get an attorney. If the perpetrator is the child’s father or stepfather, get an ATTORNEY, obtain a PROTECTIVE ORDER, and start proceedings to gain full custody of your child and terminate the abuser’s parental rights, if any.
- Complete the Justice for Children INTAKE FORM. After we have had a chance to review your information, we will contact you if we believe that we can help.
If you think another person’s child is being abused:
If you have a good relationship with a person who loves the child, share the information about abuse from these pages with that person.
If the person is unwilling to call law enforcement or Children’s Protective Services, do it yourself.