Indicators of Abuse & Neglect

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Children can be physically and psychologically neglected as well as physically, psychologically, and sexually abused. Find out the difference between abuse and neglect and some indicators of all of these.

Abuse Vs. Neglect

All too often we hear on the news that a child has been neglected or abused. Sometimes, news reporters use these terms interchangeably, albeit erroneously so. Here's why.

If a caregiver has the means or is given the means to provide for the basic age-appropriate needs of a child, but fails to do so, that's called child neglect. But if a person, caregiver or otherwise, physically, emotionally, or sexually harms the child, then this is child abuse.

In order for you to better differentiate abuse from neglect, we're going to take a look at some indicators of both in this lesson.

Indicators Of Physical Abuse & Neglect

Indicators of physical abuse are sometimes very obvious. However, even if they are, you should be very careful in interpreting as to whether these physical signs indicate abuse or just something innocent. For example, a small, simple bruise on the arm of a child could be from playing outdoors with friends. Similarly, a scraped knee may be absolutely nothing other than a fall from rollerblading. But if you see lots of bruises or very serious bruises or cuts and scrapes on a child's arms and/or legs, those may be defensive wounds stemming from physical abuse. Other signs of physical abuse of a child include:

  • Teeth marks, as in a bite
  • A broken bone or several broken bones
  • Scars on the body
  • A swollen eye
  • Finger-like marks or hand marks anywhere on the body
  • Explanations for bodily injuries that, either make no sense at all, or are given as inconsistent explanations

Technically speaking, physical child neglect may include the signs mentioned above as well, depending on the circumstances. Now, those signs wouldn't come from the adult actively and/or purposefully committing physical acts against the child. That would be physical abuse.

However, it is an adult's responsibility to protect their child from physical and psychological harm anyways. So, in a way, if a child is constantly falling down off of a high chair and hurting themselves, that may not be overt and active physical abuse aimed against the child by the caregiver, but it is physical child neglect that will result in some similar injuries anyways. The adult needs to ensure that the high chair is adequate for the child and that the child is properly secured and supervised while in the high chair. Not doing so is being neglectful. Other signs of physical neglect include, but aren't limited to:

  • Poor hygiene. For example, the child may smell due to a lack of a consistent bath.
  • A bad attendance record at school. It's the caregiver's responsibility to ensure the child gets to school.
  • The child seems sickly and/or is always hungry
  • The child gorges on food when available and hides any leftovers for later
  • Medical (including mental) issues that aren't being addressed by the caregiver.
  • Clothing that is clearly worn out, doesn't fit the child, or is inadequate for the occasion (like a lack of a winter coat on a cold winter day).

Indicators Of Psychological Abuse & Neglect

Unfortunately, some indicators of abuse and neglect aren't as obvious as signs of physical abuse and neglect. Indicators of psychological abuse and neglect are harder to spot some of the time. Indicators of psychological abuse you should be aware of include:

  • Unexpected and/or sudden changes in mood
  • Mood or other psychological issues such as depression, extreme aggression, serious anxiety, and even violence
  • Extreme shyness
  • A tendency to run away from home
  • Talk of suicide and/or suspicious marks on the body that may be indicators the child has cut themselves in an attempt at suicide. For instance, cut marks on the wrists.

Children can also be emotionally neglected, and some indicators of this are:

  • Repeatedly ignoring a child's request for things like encouragement
  • Isolation of the child from other children or adults
  • Rejecting the child (not hugging when the child hugs the caregiver)
  • Corrupting the child by, for instance, encouraging them to do illegal things

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