What constitutes child abuse and neglect

April 14, 2006|by KRISTIN WILSON

Physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse and mental or emotional injury all fall under the umbrella of child abuse and neglect.

The Washington County Department of Social Services has recognized warning signs and indicators that might suggest a form of child abuse. The presence of the following signs does not necessarily mean a child is being abused or neglected, says Stephanie Andrews, acting supervisor for the Washington County Child Advocacy Center.

"They are possibilities or red flags," she explains.

One of the biggest indicators that something is not right in a child's life is a sudden change in behavior or school performance, according to information from Prevent Child Abuse America, a national child abuse-prevention organization.

The following information from the Washington County Department of Social Services is provided to educators, administrators and support staff of the Washington County school system:


1) Physical abuse

Signs of physical abuse might be facial bruises; bruises in unusual patterns or clustered in one area of the body; bruises in various stages of healing; both eyes blackened with no injury to the nose; burns caused by immersion in hot liquid; cigarette burns that leave crater-shaped burn marks; burns that appear to be caused by hot objects like an iron or curling iron; and cuts, abrasions or fractures and injuries that do not seem likely for a child's age.

Behavioral signs of child abuse include overly compliant, shy or aggressive behavior; avoiding parents; inhibited crying; hyperactivity; avoiding physical contact; distrustfulness and low frustration tolerance.

Caregivers might hold unrealistic expectations for their child's physical or emotional development, act belligerent or aggressive and exhibit a low sense of self-esteem.

2) Child neglect

Signs of child neglect might be children who are extremely dirty and unkempt; who don't have clothes adequate for the weather; have medical problems left untreated; are frequently absent from school; are inadequately supervised; or are undernourished. Children who are victims of neglect can act withdrawn, shy or passive. They might always seem tired or be developmentally slow.

Warning signs that a caregiver might be neglectful include: apathy; little concern for the child; anger when questioned about the child's care; signs of alcohol or drug abuse; impulsive decision making; or inconsistent disciplinary practices.

3) Sexual abuse

Signs that a child might be a victim of sexual abuse include repeated symptoms of medical problems associated with the genitals or digestive system; sexually transmitted diseases; or pregnancy. Children who are victims might be extremely isolated, have poor peer relationships, few social skills and try to run away from home.

Warning signs of caregiver behavior related to sexual abuse include extreme overprotection; excessive interest in a child's social and sexual life; or seeing the child as highly sexualized.

4) Mental injury

The definition of mental injury is the observable, identifiable and substantial impairment of a child's mental or psychological ability to function.

A caregiver might inflict mental injury by making threats of death or serious injury to the child or to other people; threaten to torture a pet or animal; constantly denigrate the child; put the child through extensive emotional or physical isolation or confinement; routinely humiliate the child; blame the child for the faults of others; use bizarre or frightening forms of punishment.

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