Mar 22, 2018, 9:43:49 AM CDT May 3, 2024, 5:25:22 AM CDT

Signs of child abuse and neglect

What to do if you suspect a child is being physically, emotionally or sexually abused

The signs of abuse in toddlers and older children. The signs of abuse in toddlers and older children.

In 2022, there were 37,081 confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect in Texas (source: 2023 Beyond ABC report). Learn what you can do to advocate for children who need help.

What are types of child abuse?

Child abuse involves different types of mistreatment, such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect.

  • Physical abuse is when a child becomes injured due to intentional body contact. It can include acts like hitting, punching, slapping or choking.
  • Sexual abuse is any form of indecency, sexual contact (including touching) or sexual harm to anyone under the age of 18.
  • Emotional abuse is any behavior, speech or action of parents, guardians or others that has a negative mental impact on a child.
  • Neglect is when a parent or caregiver fails to meet a child’s basic physical and emotional needs such as food, housing, clothing, education and medical care.

Child abuse and neglect can have a lasting impact on its victims. Not only is there suffering at the time of abuse, but many victims are shown to experience depression, anxiety, higher rates of early-age drinking and smoking and other health risks.

What are signs of child abuse?

Signs of child abuse can include emotional and physical symptoms. These signs will differ between age groups and may include:

  • Afraid to shower or get changed
  • Aggressive physical or sexual behavior
  • Anxious or clingy behavior
  • Bruises, broken bones and multiple unexplained injuries
  • Convulsions (seizures sometimes associated with head trauma)
  • Delayed development
  • Depression
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Falling asleep in class
  • Harms him or herself
  • Impaired mobility (trouble moving)
  • Keeps to him or herself
  • Nightmares or problems sleeping
  • Obsessive or risk-taking behavior
  • Refuses to be touched or jumpy
  • Pain
  • Soils clothes or wets the bed
  • Sudden change in behavior

What are signs of child neglect?

Child neglect can have immediate and lasting symptoms, such as:

  • Abuses drugs or alcohol
  • Body odor or consistently dirty
  • Broken bones, bruises and other common injuries
  • Burns
  • Cognitive impairment (trouble remembering and learning new things)
  • Dehydration
  • Delayed motor development and physical skills, including rolling over, sitting, standing or walking
  • Delayed or stunted growth
  • Emotional and behavioral problems
  • Frequently misses school or is consistently late
  • Is noticeably home alone
  • Infestations (lice, bedbugs, scabies)
  • Lacks proper clothing for weather
  • Malnutrition (missing key vitamins and nutrients) and weight loss
  • Often falls asleep at school or public locations
  • States no one is ever home to help with homework
  • Steals or begs for money, food, clothes and personal items

What to do if you think a child is abused or neglected

If you notice a child exhibiting any or multiple symptoms of child abuse, you should ask them open-ended questions that are appropriate for their age group. You can start with questions like:

  • What happened?
  • Can you tell me more about that?
  • Can you describe your typical day at home?

You should always actively listen and believe what they child is telling you.

If you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected, Texas state law requires that you report it. Remember, if you look, ask and tell, you might save a child’s life.

View more resources and signs of abuse from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

Learn more

The Referral and Evaluation of At Risk Children (REACH) Clinic at Children’s Health is the only clinic in the Greater Dallas and North Texas area with medical providers specially trained and certified in child abuse. Learn more about the services we provide.

For additional resources on child abuse, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Screen capture of family newsletter signup

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the Children's Health Family Newsletter.

Children's Health will not sell, share or rent your information to third parties. Please read our privacy policy.

Children's Health Family Newsletter

Get health tips and parenting advice from Children's Health experts sent straight to your inbox twice a month.

behavior, safety

Childrens Health