Signs that a child may be at risk of abuse or neglect are not always obvious. Unexplained bruises and marks raise red flags. However, not all signals that a child is in harm’s way are immediately evident. Add in the stress and isolation of living through a pandemic, and that means tension in home environments can reach all-time highs with symptoms of abuse or neglect going unseen.
Abuse can be physical, sexual, or emotional. When it comes to child neglect, it may take the form of caregivers not providing basic needs, including food, shelter, safety, no supervision, or a lack of medical care. No matter what type of abuse or neglect a child is subjected to, the emotional scars can cause damage long after the physical wounds have healed.
Recognizing the signs
Beyond evident physical abuse and eyewitness accounts, there are also overt and subtle signs that all is not well in a child’s life or with someone you suspect as a perpetrator. Below are some critical signals to watch for.
In the child:
- Swift changes in behavior or performance at school
- Lack of medical or professional intervention for issues previously brought to parents’ attention
- On guard, or nervous, as if waiting for something terrible to occur
- Learning difficulties that cannot be linked to physical impairments, differing learning styles or psychological challenges
- Adult supervision is lacking or non-existent
- Withdrawn, passive, or tends to be overly agreeable or compliant
- Becomes agitated at the thought of going home, arrives noticeably early or stays very late at school or other activities
In the parent:
- Shows a lack of concern for their child’s emotional or physical needs
- Denies problems exist or blames the child, teachers or others for issues at home and school
- Harsh punishments are requested by the parent to be enforced by teachers or caregivers
- Views their child as worthless or a burden
- Enforces demands that their child cannot meet or achieve whether academic, physical tasks or performance in activities
- Sees their child as their source to provide care, emotional support or stability
In both parent and child:
- Physical and emotional contact is rare or non-existent
- Neither parent nor child views their relationship as positive
- Expresses their dislike or displeasure for the other verbally
What if you suspect abuse?
If a child is in immediate danger, call 911. Report it immediately. This is not a matter to dismiss or just an issue for families to deal with internally. Child abuse and endangerment could mean someone’s life is at stake. If you suspect a child has been a victim of abuse, the sooner intervention can arrive for both child and abuser, healing can begin, and the cycle can stop.
If you suspect a child needs help, call your local child protective services, hospital, hotline, or phone the Childhelp National Abuse Hotline at 888-373-7888 or Prevent Child Abuse America at 1-800-CHILDREN (1-800-244-5373). Valley Oaks is here for you as well. Our counselors will help you navigate concerns and direct you to the right resources in your area.
What if you need help?
If you realize your role as an aggressor, help is available. Asking for intervention is the right thing to do, and Valley Oaks’ Batterers Intervention Program is a good first step. We are here to help you break the patterns and cycles that can devastate children and their families.