According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 7 children experienced child abuse or neglect in the United States last year. In 2019, more than 1,800 children died as a result of abuse or neglect.
Child abuse includes any harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm against a child under the age of 18. Child abuse can be physical, sexual, or emotional in nature. Child neglect is the failure to meet a child’s basic physical and emotional needs, including housing, food, clothing, education, and access to medical care. Abusers may be parents, caregivers, or people in a custodial role over children, such as religious leaders, coaches, or teachers.
Children who are abused and neglected not only suffer immediate physical injuries, but can also suffer long-term physical, behavioral, and psychological health consequences. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children who are abused and neglected are more likely to engage in unhealthy sexual practices, criminal behavior, and alcohol or drug use.
Here are some warning signs that might indicate that a child is being abused or neglected. Keep in mind that the presence of any sign does not prove that a child is being abused.
- A child who displays sudden changes in behavior or school performance.
- A child who comes to school or other activities early, stays late, and does not want to go home.
- A child who is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen.
- A child who is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn.
- A child who has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parent’s attention.
- A child who lacks adult supervision.
Some warning signs that you may see from parents who abuse or neglect their children include:
- A parent who shows little concern for their child.
- A parent who asks teachers or other caregivers to use harsh physical discipline if the child misbehaves.
- A parent who views their child as entirely bad, worthless, or burdensome.
- A parent who demands a level of physical or academic performance their child cannot achieve.
- A parent who looks primarily to the child for care, attention, and satisfaction of emotional needs.
Any concerned person can report suspicions of child abuse and neglect. If you suspect a child you know is being harmed, reporting your suspicions may protect the child and get help for the family. Reports of abuse are investigated by child protective services, who work to ensure the child is safe and help the parent or caregiver get services, education, or other assistance they may need.
For more information about where and how to file a confidential report, contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at (800) 4-A-Child (800-422-4453) or visit Childhelp.org.