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Child abuse means doing something that hurts a child. Neglect means not giving or doing something that a child needs.
There are different types of abuse and neglect.
This includes hitting, kicking, shaking, pinching, and burning. It may leave bruises, cuts, or other marks and cause pain, broken bones, or internal injuries.
This means saying or doing things that make a child feel unloved, unwanted, unsafe, or worthless. It can range from yelling and threatening to ignoring the child and not giving love and support. It may not leave scars you can see, but the damage to a child is just as real.
Any sexual contact between an adult and a child or between an older child and a younger child is sexual abuse. Showing pornography to a child is a type of sexual abuse.
Neglect happens when a child does not get the shelter, schooling, clothing, medical care, or protection that the child needs. Child neglect is just as serious as abuse and is more common.
When you suspect a child is, or is at risk of, being abused or neglected, it is important to take action. Most abused children are not able to help themselves.
Keep in mind that by reporting your suspicions, you may prevent a child from being seriously hurt or even killed and from having lifelong emotional problems. You may be able to make reports anonymously. If you give your name, it is kept confidential.
You may not have to give your name. If you don't know who to call, a hospital may be able to tell you. Many of them have special programs to deal with child abuse and neglect. Childhelp, a nonprofit agency, provides telephone numbers and information about how to report suspected or observed child abuse or neglect.
Call 911 or other emergency services right away.
This may be the home of a close friend or family member or a domestic violence shelter. To find help in your area, call a trusted health professional, a child abuse organization, or the police.
Tell someone who can make a difference: a trusted family member, teacher, counselor, or doctor.
This hotline is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to offer information, advice, and support. Childhelp is a nonprofit agency. It provides telephone numbers and information about how to report suspected or observed child abuse or neglect.
A risk factor is anything that makes you more likely to have a certain problem or disease.
People are more likely to abuse or neglect children if they:
The risk of abuse and neglect increases when a child has a disability or other health issue, such as:
Another risk factor for children is not having a close bond with parents. This may be caused by:
Here are some ways you can help protect your child from abuse and neglect.
Let them know it is safe to talk about anything with you.
Find out what they know about child health, child development, and child care. This may include getting permission for a police background check.
Call a family member or friend to give you a break if you feel overwhelmed. Find out about community resources that can help you with child care or other services. Call a doctor or local hospital for information. Look online for information and support, such as Childhelp (www.childhelp.org).
Having a history of being abused increases your chances of becoming an abuser. A good place to start is the Childhelp hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). You can talk to a counselor for free without giving your name.
Avoid using physical punishment. Parenting classes are offered in most communities. Ask your doctor or call a local hospital for more information.
If there is someone in your child's life who you think is close to becoming an abuser, you may be able to talk to that person about it and help the person learn more about managing stress and about how children grow and develop.
For example, understanding why babies cry can help you stay calm and manage your feelings as you find ways to soothe the baby.
If you want to save this information but don't think it's safe to take it home, see if a trusted friend can keep it for you. Plan ahead. Know who you can call for help, and memorize the phone number.
Be careful online too. Your online activity may be seen by others. Do not use your personal computer or device to read about this topic. Use a safe computer such as one at work, a friend's house, or a library.
Everyone can help prevent child abuse and neglect by showing concern for children and their well-being. Here are some ways you can help prevent abuse and neglect in children in your community.
For example, a child may not grow as expected, may be dirty or unhealthy, or may seem fearful, anxious, or depressed.
Support any group that helps parents at risk of abusing their children. Donate time, money, or goods to a local domestic violence shelter. Volunteer in child abuse programs.
A child's life may depend on it.
Learn the children's names, and show you care simply by waving to them or asking about how they're doing at home and school. Offer to help a new parent. Child abuse becomes less likely if parents and caregivers feel supported.
Relieve a friend, neighbor, or relative who is feeling overwhelmed with child care and other issues.
Symptoms of child abuse and neglect can be physical, psychological, or both.
Keep in mind that older children may not talk about the problem, because they fear or want to protect the offender. Or they don't believe they will be taken seriously.
Certain general symptoms that may suggest that a child is experiencing some type of abuse or neglect include:
The child does not show the abilities and skills normally found in other children the same age, such as starting to talk or socialize with others. Some children regress, which means they slip backward, losing skills they had before.
This is a term that means the child isn't gaining weight or height the way the child should. Although this can be caused by a medical problem, it can also be a sign that the child is not being well cared for.
The parent may not be interested in the child. Or the child may be constantly trying not to upset the parent. The child may actually be afraid of the parent.
These may include low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, or thoughts of suicide.
For example, a child who normally does well in school suddenly gets low grades.
In a young child, this could mean being unusually fussy, being afraid, or not being interested in activities. Children often act out what they have seen or experienced, such as violence or sexual activity. Older children may act out in unusual ways, such as having sex, fighting, using drugs, or running away.
Children often get injured. But physical injuries may point to abuse when:
Emotional abuse means doing or saying things to hurt a child emotionally. For example, the adult may say things to make the child feel unwanted or worthless. A child who is emotionally abused may:
Sometimes children who've been sexually abused have physical symptoms, such as:
But more often a child will have no physical signs of sexual abuse. Instead, you may notice changes in behavior. For example, the child may:
Other things can cause these changes. But if you notice symptoms or behaviors that concern you, talk to your child's doctor.
Sexual abuse is very different from normal sexual play between children who have not reached puberty.
Normal sexual play between children of similar ages is usually touching and looking. No force is used.
Sexual abuse includes any sexual activity that the child is not able to understand or consent to. Besides obvious sexual acts, examples include fondling and showing pornography to a child.
Child neglect means not providing a child with basic needs. A child's general appearance, home environment, and behavior patterns can show signs of neglect.
A child who is neglected may:
Children who are abused or neglected may have long-term emotional and physical problems.
Young children are at special risk. Abuse and neglect in children younger than 7 years of age may lead to permanent behavior and personality changes. They may not grow properly. They may have learning problems. They may feel bad about themselves and not trust other people. They may be scared or angry. And sometimes they die.
The mental and emotional effects depend on how bad the abuse or neglect is, how often it happens, how long it's been going on, and who the abuser is.
Mental health disorders that can be caused by abuse and neglect include:
Other emotional effects include:
Children who are abused or neglected are more likely to abuse other children and siblings and, later in life, their own children or elderly parents. They are also more likely to become involved in crime.
Children often believe that abuse or neglect is their fault. They may think that they did something wrong and deserve what happened. It is up to adults who care to protect them.
Call 911 anytime you think a child may need emergency care. For example, call if:
Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:
Contact your doctor if:
Here are some ways that child abuse and neglect are diagnosed.
An abused or neglected child who is taken to a doctor will first have a general physical exam. The doctor will review the child's medical history and ask parents or caregivers questions about the child's condition.
A child who is able to talk may be separated from the caregiver during the interview.
The law requires doctors to consider the possibility of abuse or neglect. Along with seeing signs of physical abuse or neglect, a doctor may become suspicious when:
Other children in the care of the same person may also be examined and have X-rays if police or doctors think it's needed.
Tests that are often used to help confirm or rule out abuse or neglect include:
Tests such as an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI can help determine whether a child's injuries include any broken bones. Some tests may also show signs of past injuries.
Blood tests can be used to look for signs of organ damage.
This test checks for blood in the urine, which can be a sign of internal injuries.
For example, the doctor may take skin or hair samples or samples of fluids in or around the vagina to be tested.
This is also called a spinal tap. It may reveal blood from a brain injury.
This test is done to find out if damage has occurred that points to abusive head trauma.
Other exams and tests depend on the specific medical problem suspected or observed. For example:
Information about a child's injuries is carefully recorded. A detailed account of the injuries goes into the child's permanent health record.
This record usually includes photographs and drawings of the injuries.
Measurements such as weight, height, and head circumference are also taken and recorded to help establish a child's baseline growth pattern. Recording these measurements on growth charts can help identify failure to thrive that sometimes is related to neglect.
Early treatment gives an abused or neglected child the best chance for recovery.
The first step is to provide a safe environment to prevent further harm. The sooner this happens, the better the child's chance for physical and emotional recovery. This includes separating the child, as well as any other children in the household, from the person suspected of abuse.
Any physical injuries will be treated, either in a hospital or at a doctor's office, depending on how serious they are.
Counseling is always recommended for abused or neglected children. It usually focuses on:
For very young children, counseling may involve play therapy.
Parents or caregivers who have abused or neglected a child need treatment. The type of treatment depends on the specific abuse that occurred.
Some people need to learn more about how to raise and care for children. Others may need treatment for other serious problems, such as:
Parents who have lost custody of their children can sometimes regain it. It depends on how bad the abuse or neglect was and how far they have come in realizing what their problems are and how to prevent them.
In severe cases, the parent can see the child only when someone else is present. Sometimes a judge permanently ends the parent-child relationship.
The law requires certain people, such as doctors, social workers, and teachers, to report suspected child abuse and neglect. Usually the report is made to the police or to child welfare or child protection agencies. In some areas the law requires all citizens to report suspected abuse or neglect.
But many people don't know what to do about suspected abuse, because they:
If you're unsure about what to do, here are some things to keep in mind about how the law works.
Current as of:
February 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Kathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineJohn Pope MD - Pediatrics
Current as of: February 9, 2022
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & John Pope MD - Pediatrics
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