Signs and Symptoms of Abuse


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines child abuse and neglect as any act or series of acts of commission or omission, by a parent or other caregiver (e.g. clergy, coach, teacher) that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child. Abuse comes in many different forms such as sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect. It happens more often than you think. Five children die every day as a result of abuse and neglect. 

The following warning signs are commonly associated with abuse and neglect. These signs, by themselves, may not be conclusive evidence that a child is being abused or neglected, but serve as a guide to help identify abuse and neglect when it is present.

Child Neglect

Child Neglect is the willful or non-willful failure to provide for a child’s basic needs such as adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, or proper supervision that impares or risks impairement of a child’s health or well-being.

Child Sexual Abuse

Child Sexual Abuse refers to any sexual act with a child by an adult or another child of any age. It includes, but is not limited to, forcing or encouraging a child to engage in sexual activity, fondling or rubbing the child’s genitals, penetration, rape, sodomy, indecent exposure, voyeurism, and using the child for prostitution or for the production of pornographic materials.

Child Physical Abuse

Child Physical Abuse is intentional injury inflicted upon a child or the use of force resulting in bodily injury, pain or impairment, brain trauma or even death. It may include, but is not limited to, severe shaking, beating, slapping, punching, kicking, burning, or improper physical restraint.

Child Emotional Abuse

Child Emotional Abuse is the willful infliction of mental or emotional anguish on a child by threat, humiliation, intimidation or other abusive conduct. This may also occur when a parent fails to provide the understanding, warmth, attention, and supervision the child needs for healthy psychological growth. Emotional abuse may include, but is not limited to, frightening, isolating, belittling, insulting, rejecting, or constant criticism of a child with no evidence of love, support, or guidance.


Signs of Child Neglect

  • Malnourishment or inadequate nutrition
  • Begging, stealing, or hoarding food
  • Frequent poor hygiene including matted hair, dirty skin, severe body odor etc.
  • Torn and/or dirty clothes
  • Unattended physical or medical problems
  • Child states there is no caretaker at home
  • Distended stomach, emaciated
  • Frequent absence or tardiness from school
  • Regularly displays fatigue or listlessness or falls asleep in class
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Extreme loneliness and need for affection

Sourced from New York State Family Court Act – FCT § 1012. 


Signs of Sexual Abuse

  • Pain, swelling, itching, or bleeding in genital or anal areas
  • Difficulty and/or pain when sitting or walking
  • Excessive seductiveness
  • Age-inappropriate sex play
  • Premature understanding of sex or age-inappropriate sexual knowledge
  • Display age-inappropriate behaviors with toys, themselves, or others
  • Role reversal, overly concerned for siblings
  • Significant weight change
  • Suicide attempts (especially adolescents)
  • Sleep disturbances or nightmares
  • Depression
  • Unusual aggressionInterest or avoidance of all things of a sexual nature
  • Threatened by physical contact of closeness
  • Extreme fear of being alone with certain children or adults
  • Sexual victimization of other children
  • Major changes in normal mood or behavior

Sourced from New York State Social Services Law – SOS § 473.

Signs of Physical Abuse

  • Frequent unexplained injuries and/or when child or parent cannot adequately explain injury causes such as: bruises, cuts, lacerations, black eyes, fractures, burns
  • Burns or bruises in an unusual pattern
  • Lack of reaction to pain
  • Injuries such as broken bones, bruises, burns or welts in various stages of healing
  • Injuries involving the face, backs of hands, buttocks, genital area, abdomen, back, or sides of body
  • Frequent complaints of pain without obvious injury
  • Complaints of soreness or discomfort when moving
  • Fear of going home or seeing parents or caretaker
  • Passive, withdrawn, emotionless behavior
  • Aggressive, disruptive, and destructive or self-destructive behavior

Sourced from New York State Social Services Law – SOS § 473.

Signs of Emotional Abuse

  • Speech disorders
  • Delayed physical development
  • Substance abuse
  • Ulcers, asthma, severe allergies
  • Habit disorders (sucking, rocking, biting)
  • Extremes in behavior from overly aggressive to overly passive
  • Difficulty in schools
  • Failure to thrive
  • Difficulty sleeping or insomnia
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Suicide attempts
  • Frequent lying
  • Antisocial or destructive behaviors
  • Delinquent behaviors (especially adolescents)

Sourced from New York State Social Services Law – SOS § 473.

If you suspect that a child is being abused, call Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-342-3720