Child Abuse and Neglect - Symptoms
Abused or neglected children often show
both physical and behavioral symptoms. Older children may not talk about the
problem, because they fear or want to protect the offender or they do not
believe they will be taken seriously. Sometimes children report abuse to an
adult they trust. These conversations should be taken seriously and acted
Some symptoms are specific to certain forms of
maltreatment. There are also general symptoms that can
occur with all types.
Certain general symptoms that
may suggest that a child is experiencing some type of abuse or neglect
- Developmental delays, which means a child does not reach developmental milestones as
expected, such as starting to talk or socialize with others.
- Regression, which is losing skills already mastered and moving
back to a earlier state of development.
- Failure to thrive,
which is when a child's growth pattern is not in a healthy range. Both weight
and height can be affected, but low weight for height and head circumference is
the most common symptom. Most cases of failure to thrive are the result of
problems with the immediate care of the child, the interaction between the
child and the caregiver (usually the mother), or the social and emotional
health of the caregiver.
- Unusual parent/child interaction. The
parent may be uninterested in the child, or a child may be especially sensitive
to the parent's moods and may attempt to smooth over any potential conflict.
Often this appears as a type of role reversal, with the child closely
monitoring and responding to the parent. Abused or neglected children may also
fear their parents.
- Poor mental health, such as exhibiting low
self-esteem, anxiety, depression, or suicidal tendencies.
decline in academic performance.
- Inappropriate or problem behavior.
In some cases, especially for a young child, unusual fussiness, fear, or lack
of interest in activities may be noticed. Other behaviors may be disruptive.
Children often act out what they have seen or experienced, such as violence or
sexual activity. Older children may act out by being promiscuous or running
Symptoms of physical abuse
Physical abuse often
results in cuts, bruises, burns, broken bones, head injuries, and abdominal
These types of injuries may point to physical abuse when:
- They are unlikely to have been caused by an
accident, especially for the child's developmental stage. Geometric patterns or
mirror (symmetrical) injuries are suspicious, as are those located on areas of
the body that usually are protected, such as the inside of the legs and arms,
the back, the genitalia, and the buttocks.
- Explanations change or
do not adequately account for how an injury occurred. The history of the injury
does not match the actual type of injury, its location, or how long ago it
- Evidence shows that injuries have occurred
- Medical care for the injury is delayed.
Symptoms of psychological abuse