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7 Signs of Child Abuse and Neglect

Everyone in the community plays a role in the prevention of child abuse and neglect. But often, recognizing the signs can be difficult. It’s more than bruises and broken bones—not all child abuse is as obvious. By learning some of the common signs of child abuse and how you can report it, you can make a huge difference in a child’s life.

Suspected Signs of Child Abuse or Neglect

1. Frequent and unexplained injuries. Children who have experienced physical abuse may have unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts in areas of the body where accidental injuries aren’t likely to happen—like the cheeks, neck, genitals, buttocks, and back. These injuries can appear to have a pattern, like marks from a hand or a belt.

2. Extremes in behavior. Abused or neglected children show severe changes in behavior. They can be extremely compliant or extremely demanding; extremely passive or extremely aggressive. Often, too, they can be excessively withdrawn, anxious, or fearful of doing something wrong.

3. Don’t act their age. Children who have experienced emotional abuse may act inappropriately old for their age (i.e., acting like the parent of younger siblings) or return to early childhood behaviors. These behaviors may include:

Thumb-sucking
Bed-wetting
Fear of the dark
Rocking back and forth
Fear of strangers
Throwing tantrums

4. Changes in eating or sleeping habits. The stress of abuse can cause changes in a child’s eating habits, which may lead to weight loss or gain. Furthermore, if a child is being neglected, they may hoard food, never knowing when they’ll receive their next meal. Abused children may also appear tired or fatigued as a result of frequent nightmares or difficulty falling asleep.

5. Lack of hygiene or personal care. Abused or neglected children may look uncared for. They seem constantly dirty (unbathed, matted and unwashed hair, body odor), wear clothes that are ill-fitting or inappropriate for the weather, or have untreated illnesses or injuries.

6. Afraid of going home. Children who have experienced abuse may come to school early and leave late because of the fear and anxiety they experience around returning to the place where abuse is happening.

7. Inappropriate sexual behaviors. Children who have been sexually abused may show interest in or knowledge about sexual acts that are inappropriate for their age. They may also engage in seductive behavior or use explicit sexual language.

What can you do about child abuse and neglect?

Trust your instincts. If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, call toll free to report at 1-844-CO-4-KIDS (1-844-264-5437). The Colorado Department of Human Services launched a new statewide child abuse and neglect hotline, 1-844-CO-4-KIDS, on January 1, 2015. Designed to provide one, easy-to-remember phone number for individuals to use statewide to report suspected child abuse and neglect, the hotline serves as a direct, immediate and efficient route to Colorado’s 64 counties and two tribal nations, which are responsible for accepting and responding to child abuse and neglect inquiries and reports. All callers will be able to speak with a call-taker 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and all calls are anonymous.

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