possible signs of abuse
how do I know if a child or young person is being abused?
There are common physical and behavioural signs that may indicate abuse or neglect. The presence of one of these signs does not necessarily mean abuse or neglect. Other things need to be considered, such as the circumstances of the child, young person or family.
When considering if a child or young person has been abused or neglected, or is at risk of this, it is important to keep in mind the life circumstances of the child, young person and their family.
The following risk factors (either singularly or in combination) are associated with increased risk of harm for children and young people:
- social or geographic isolation of the child, young person or family, including lack of access to extended family
- previous abuse or neglect of a brother or sister
- family history of violence including domestic violence
- physical or mental health issues for the parent or caregiver which affects their ability to care for the child or young person in their care
- the parent or caregivers’ abuse of alcohol or other drugs which affects their ability to care for the child or young person in their care.
The signs below are only possible signs of abuse and neglect. The presence of these signs does not necessarily mean abuse and neglect has been or is, occurring.
The child or young person's circumstances and their age or other vulnerabilities, for example disability or chronic illness, also need to be taken into consideration. If you have concerns then you should report them to Community Services.
possible signs of neglect
- low weight for age and/or failure to thrive and develop
- untreated physical problems e.g. sores, serious nappy rash and urine scalds, significant dental decay
- poor standards of hygiene i.e. child or young person consistently unwashed
- poor complexion and hair texture
- child not adequately supervised for their age
- scavenging or stealing food and focus on basic survival
- extended stays at school, public places, other homes
- longs for or indiscriminately seeks adult affection
- rocking, sucking, head-banging
- poor school attendance
- unable or unwilling to provide adequate food, shelter, clothing, medical attention, safe home conditions
- leaving the child without appropriate supervision
- abandons the child or young person
- withholding physical contact or stimulation for prolonged periods
- unable or unwilling to provide psychological nurturing
- has limited understanding of the child or young person's needs
- has unrealistic expectations of the child or young person
possible signs of physical abuse
- bruising to face, head or neck, other bruising and marks which may show the shape of the object that caused it eg belt buckle, hand print
- lacerations and welts
- drowsiness, vomiting, fits or pooling of blood in the eyes, which may suggest head injury
- adult bite marks and scratches
- fractures of bones, especially in children under three years old
- dislocations, sprains, twisting
- burns and scalds (including cigarette burns)
- multiple injuries or bruises
- explanation of injury offered by the child or young person is not consistent with their injury
- abdominal pain caused by ruptured internal organs, without a history of major trauma
- swallowing of poisonous substances, alcohol or other harmful drugs
- general indicators of female genital mutilation eg having a 'special operation'
signs in parents and caregivers
- frequent visits with the child or young person in their care to health or other services with unexplained or suspicious injuries, swallowing of non-food substances or with internal complaints
- explanation of injury offered by the parent is not consistent with the injury
- family history of violence
- history of their own maltreatment as a child
- fears injuring the child or young person in their care
- uses excessive discipline
possible signs of sexual abuse
signs in children or young people
- bruising or bleeding in the genital area
- sexually transmitted diseases
- bruising to breasts, buttocks, lower abdomen or thighs
- child or young person or their friend telling you about it, directly or indirectly
- describing sexual acts
- sexual knowledge or behaviour inappropriate for the child’s age
- going to bed fully clothed
- regressive behaviour e.g. sudden return to bed-wetting or soiling
- self-destructive behaviour e.g. drug dependency, suicide attempts, self-mutilation
- child being in contact with a known or suspected pedophile
- anorexia or over-eating
- adolescent pregnancy
- unexplained accumulation of money and gifts
- persistent running away from home
- risk taking behaviours - self harm, suicide attempts
signs in parents or caregivers
- exposing a child or young person to prostitution or pornography or using a child for pornographic purposes
- intentional exposure of a child to sexual behaviour of others
- previous conviction or suspicion of child sexual abuse
- coercing a child or young person to engage in sexual behaviour with other children
- verbal threats of sexual abuse
- denial of adolescent’s pregnancy by family
possible signs of emotional abuse
All types of abuse and neglect harm children psychologically, but the term ‘psychological harm’ or ‘emotional abuse’ applies to behaviour which damages the confidence and self esteem of a child or young person, resulting in serious emotional deprivation or trauma.
signs in children
- constant feelings of worthlessness about life and themselves
- unable to value others
- lack of trust in people
- lack of people skills necessary for daily functioning
- extreme attention-seeking behaviour
- is obsessively eager to please or obey adults
- takes extreme risks, is markedly disruptive, bullying or aggressive
- is highly self critical, depressed or anxious
- suicide threats or attempts
- persistent running away from home.
signs in parents or caregivers
- constant criticism, belittling, teasing of a child or young person, or ignoring or withholding praise and attention
- excessive or unreasonable demands
- persistent hostility and severe verbal abuse, rejection and scapegoating
- belief that a particular child or young person in their care is bad or ‘evil’
- using inappropriate physical or social isolation as punishment
- domestic violence.
Remember, the above are only possible signs of abuse and neglect. The presence of these signs does not necessarily mean abuse and neglect has been or is, occurring.
If you have concerns you should report them to Community Services by calling the Child Protection Helpline on 132 111.