Warning Signs of Child Abuse

Shelter Inc. in Martinez, California pic
Shelter Inc. in Martinez, California pic
Shelter Inc. in Martinez, California
Image: shelterinc.org

As an intake coordinator for Shelter Inc. in Martinez, California, social worker Marla Harding draws on more than 17 years of experience in social work. Marla Harding stands out as a former social worker for the state of Washington, where she investigated cases of potential child abuse and neglect.

A child who has experienced abuse may display any number of physical, emotional, and behavioral signs. Children often display a general failure to thrive and to reach developmental milestones at ages within the normal range, particularly if the child has suffered emotional abuse. Some children may even regress to an earlier developmental stage and appear to lose certain social skills.

Children who have experienced abuse may display unusually high levels of fear, withdrawal, or aggression. They may appear particularly fearful of certain individuals or of the home environment itself. Older children may act out and engage in dangerous behavior, such as drug abuse or prostitution.

Children who have been the victims of sexual abuse may be more likely to engage in sexual acts or play or to display a precocious knowledge of sex. Sexual abuse also tends to make itself known through physical symptoms, such as difficulty walking and sitting or an unwillingness to use the toilet. Children may also complain of headaches, stomachaches, and pain in the genital region, and they may be prone to urinary, yeast, and venereal infections as well as bleeding through the pants.

Physical abuse, by contrast, is more likely to show itself through bruising, burns, or other injuries that are not typical for a child. Bruises on the back, torso, buttocks, neck, or thighs, for example, are often indicative of abuse. Bruises may also cluster as a result of repeat contact. Withdrawn or fearful behavior is extremely common in children who have had such experiences and may prompt contact with social service personnel.