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Child Abuse and Neglect - Topic Overview

What can you do if you suspect that a child has been abused or neglected?

Call the police or local child protective services. You don't 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.

If a child is in immediate danger or has been badly hurt, don't wait. Call 911 or other emergency services right away.

If it is your own child, get him or her to a safe place and stay there. 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.

If you are a child or teen who is being abused, don't keep the secret. Tell someone who can make a difference: a trusted family member, teacher, counselor, or doctor.

The Childhelp National Child Abuse hotline is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to offer information, advice, and support. Call 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).

What can you do if you're afraid someone might harm your child?

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.

If you're afraid to talk to the person, make a specific plan for how you will protect your children if you think abuse is about to happen or has happened. Know who you will call and where you and your children will go.

How can you prevent child abuse and neglect?

To protect your child from abuse:

  • Listen to your child. Let him or her know it is safe to talk about anything with you.
  • Get to know your child's friends and their families.
  • Screen all caregivers, such as babysitters and day care centers. Find out what they know about child health, child development, and child care. This may include getting permission for a police background check.
  • Teach your child the difference between "good touches" and "bad touches."
  • Take a break. Ask a family member or friend to give you a break when you feel overwhelmed. Learn healthy ways to manage stress. Look online for information and support, such as Childhelp (www.childhelp.org).
  • Get help if you have ever been a victim of abuse. 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.

To help other children:

  • Learn to recognize the signs of abuse and neglect. For example, a child may not grow as expected, may be dirty or unhealthy, or may seem fearful, anxious, or depressed.
  • Know the names of your neighbors and their children. Offer to help a new parent. Child abuse becomes less likely if parents and caregivers feel supported.
  • Be an advocate for children. Support any group that helps parents at risk of abusing their children. Donate time, money, or goods to a local domestic violence shelter.
  • If you see abuse or neglect happening, speak up. A child's life may depend on it.
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