Heidi Hovland, Supervised Visitation Program Coordinator, Matty’s Place Child Advocacy Center, a Program of Family & Children’s Center
It can sometimes be overwhelming to hear about the facts about child abuse, but it’s important to be aware of this issue so that you know what to look for if you suspect abuse.
There are different signs for neglect, and physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, but often times signs can overlap. Signs of abuse and neglect that are easier to spot include, but are not limited to:
- broken bones
- bad hygiene or untreated injuries
- over eating or not eating enough
- nervous ailments such as rashes or frequent stomach aches
- torn, stained or bloody underclothes
- speech disorders such as stammering or stuttering
These physical signs aren’t always visible. It is common for abusers to strategically harm victims in places that will be covered by clothing, making them hidden.
Because physical signs of abuse can be concealed, other signs might be revealed in a way that you might not realize. There are a number of behaviors to look for that might indicate abuse, including but not limited to:
- emotional outbursts
- always appearing scared or on the lookout for something bad to happen
- avoiding certain situations or people for no apparent reason
- interest in sexual behavior that is not age-appropriate
- frequent nightmares and changes in sleep habits
- behaviors from an earlier stage of life reappear such as bedwetting, thumb-sucking, fear of the dark and strangers, or loss of acquired language/memory
- coming early or lingering after school or other activities, not wanting to go home
- extreme changes in behavior such as being overly anxious or aggressive or a loss of self-confidence
While you might think of looking at kids first, they aren’t the only people to pay attention to when it comes to abuse. Caregivers can also display warning signs and present risk-factors.
There are a number of adult circumstances that can put children at risk. Drug or alcohol use in the home, domestic violence acts, untreated mental illness in caregivers, and a lack of parenting skills make home environments more stressful and increase the likelihood of abuse occurring.
Be on the lookout for adults who have little concern for their kids, deny any problems exist at home or school, blame problems on their children, consistently berate kids with negative terms such as “worthless” and “evil,” offer conflicting or unconvincing explanations for their child’s injuries, or severely limit their child’s contact with others.
Just because signs might be present, it is still difficult to find out abuse is happening without further investigation, so don’t wait. Anybody can report abuse. Your suspicions could save a life or help a child who has been silently suffering.