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What to Do if You Suspect Abuse and Neglect

Reporting Suspected Abuse and Neglect

While most of us want nothing but the best for our children, child abuse and neglect are too common. While the words “abuse” and “neglect” are often used interchangeably, each type of maltreatment is distinct. Abuse is the intentional maltreatment of a child and can be physical, sexual or emotional in nature. Neglect, on the other hand, is the failure to give children the necessary care they need. The emotional scars of both types of maltreatment are often deep and no child deserves to be maltreated.

If you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected, or if you think a child may have died from being mistreated, you must report what you know to the county Department of Social Services. This is the law. Do not be afraid to report. As long as you are acting in good faith, you cannot be held liable by law.

Recognizing Child Abuse

The following signs may signal the presence of child abuse or neglect. It is important to note that any one of these things could mean anything or nothing. There are many reasons a child may not want to go home on a particular day or may be overly compliant when they are trying to please a favorite teacher. However, when you have a cluster of two or more of these, this should raise a red flag to at least talk to the child and or parent, or at most call your local Child Protective Services agency. It is also important to remember that issues related solely to poverty are not considered child maltreatment issues.

The Child:
  • Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance
  • Displays overt sexualized behavior or exhibits sexual knowledge that is inconsistent with their age
  • Has not received medical attention for a physical injury that has been brought to the parents' attention
  • Has learning problems that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes
  • Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen
  • Is overly compliant, an overachiever or too responsible
  • Comes to school early, stays late and does not want to go home
  • Has unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones or black eyes
  • Has bruises or marks in non-prominent, “fleshy” areas of the body (for example, inside of biceps or behind the knees)
  • Has fading bruises or other marks noticeable after an absence from school
  • Seems frightened of the parents and protests or cries when it is time to go home from school
  • Shrinks at the approach of adults
  • Reports injury by a parent or another adult caregiver
The Parent or Other Adult Caregiver:
  • Shows little concern for the child, rarely responding to the school's requests for information, conferences or home visits
  • Denies the existence of or blames the child for problems in school or at home
  • Asks the classroom teacher to use harsh physical discipline if the child misbehaves
  • Sees the child as entirely bad, worthless or burdensome
  • Demands perfection, or a level of physical or academic performance the child cannot achieve
  • Offers conflicting, unconvincing or no explanation for the child's injury
  • Describes the child as "evil" or in some other very negative way
  • Is abusing alcohol, prescription drugs or illegal drugs, and that abuse is having an adverse impact on the child
  • Uses harsh physical discipline with the child
  • Has a history of abuse as a child

Information courtesy of North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services