Emotional abuse is ongoing conduct that seriously harms a child’s psychological well-being, but it’s harder to put your finger on as a parent because there are no bruises or marks to identify. Also, often the child does not have the vocabulary or understanding to describe it to you. All they really know is that they don’t like being with the abusive person.
This form of abuse can take the form of constant belittling, shaming, and humiliating a child, calling the child names and comparing her unfavorably to others, telling the child he is “no good,” “worthless,” “bad,” or “a mistake,” frequent yelling, threatening, or bullying, ignoring or rejecting a child as punishment, withholding signs of affection, and exposing the child to violence towards others, whether it be the abuse of a parent, a sibling, or even a pet. It is important to note that not all of these will happen at the same time, and it is possible for one child, among others, to be singled out for the abuse.
Signs of emotional abuse may include:
- • Speech disorders
- • Lags in physical development
- • Failure to thrive
- • Sallow, empty facial appearance
- • Hyperactivity, disruptiveness
- • Anxiety and unrealistic fears
- • Sleep problems, nightmares
- • Developmental lags
- • Conduct and academic problems at school
- • Poor peer relationships
- • Behavioral extremes (overly aggressive or compliant)
- • Depressed, withdrawn, isolated
- • Apathetic, aloof, indifferent
- • Habit disorder (biting, rocking, head banging, or thumb sucking for older children)
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.