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Signs of Child Abuse

No single sign or symptom is the deciding factor about whether a child has been abused. However, many studies show that child abuse and neglect can have a long term negative impact on a child. Child victims are at greater risk for emotional problems, such as depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts. They also are at higher risk for health problems, including high blood pressure, asthma, and obesity. If you suspect a child is being abused, one phone call can make all the difference in the life of that child.

Signs of child abuse can be subtle, and in many cases, nonexistent. Changes in your child’s routine or new unexplained behaviors are worth a second look.

What to look for:

  • Unexplained injuries

  • Changes in emotional behavior

  • Returning to less mature/younger behaviors

  • Fear of going home

  • Changes in eating

  • Changes to sleep patterns

  • Changes in school performance or attendance

  • Lack of personal care in hygiene

  • Risk-taking behaviors

  • Inappropriate sexual behaviors

(The above information is provided in part by CACTX and The Dee Norton Lowcountry Children’s Center)

How to Talk to Children About Abuse

Talking to children about abuse can be challenging but it can also help keep them safe. Here are some tips for talking to the children in your life:

  • Blend a discussion of abuse with other "safety talks."

  • Be clear that breasts and genitals are "private" but sometimes parents may have to help clean them or doctors may have to examine them, but these things should never be done in secrecy.

  • Tell children to tell you as soon as possible if anyone tries to touch or look at their breasts or genitals, or if anyone asks them to touch or look at their breasts or genitals. 

  • Describe sexual abuse as a "touching problem" that is similar to stealing or lying. Don't call sexual abuse a sickness

  • Talk about the "tricks" someone might use to get children alone or keep children from telling. 

  • Be clear with children that you will not be mad if they tell you something happened to them, and they will not get in trouble, even if they waited to tell you. 

What to Do If a Child Discloses Abuse 

If a child tells you they have been hurt there are things you can do to help. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Don't press the child for details. Let the child tell you in his or her own words without interruption. 

  • Believe and support the child. Stay calm. 

  • Tell the child you are glad they told you and that you will help. 

  • Report the abuse to your local child abuse reporting hotline (see below). 

  • If you are a Mandated Reporter, you have a legal obligation to report suspicion of abuse to your local Children and Family Services agency (see below). 

How to Report Abuse

To report child abuse, call your local child abuse reporting hotline.  Here is a list of child abuse hotline numbers for every county in California: CPS Hotline Numbers

If you suspect a child is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.


National Resources

Fight Child Abuse website

The nonprofit Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center Foundation in conjunction with Wonder Media has developed a national campaign on a child abuse awareness and prevention. The program’s main goal is to educate children about what to do when confronted with abusive behavior, safe and unsafe touches, going to a parent or another trusted adult if they are confronted in an unsafe situation, and that it is not their fault.

National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-422-4453
The hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with professional crisis counselors who, through interpreters, can provide assistance in 170 languages. They offer crisis intervention, information, literature, and referrals to thousands of emergency, social service, and support resources.

National Child Stress Traumatic Network  website
This network aims to raise the standard of care and improve access to services for traumatized children, their families and communities throughout the United States.

Stop It Now!   website
This organization provides support, information and resources to keep children safe and create healthier communities.

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)  website or 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
RAINN operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline in partnership with more than 1,100 local rape crisis centers across the country.  RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help victims and ensure that offenders are brought to justice.

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