How To Recognize Child Abuse

Childrens Safety Spotlight

We are excited to be partnering with the Alabama Network of Child Advocacy Centers to bring important information about child safety to our readers once a month.  Today, we are bringing you information about how to recognize child abuse.

Recognizing Child Abuse by Gina South and Cristie DeLaVega

When my first son was a new baby, I made all kinds of resolutions. I would read to him every day, he would only eat healthy foods, he would not see a television until he was 5, I would only play classical music for him, and of course, I would keep him safe. Nobody would ever hurt him. It probably didn’t take me 6 weeks to realize that some of those rules might be a bit…excessive, to say the least.

Today, as a mother raising 4 children, I have gradually let go of most of my own strict parenting guidelines – all except one: child safety. As the State Director of Alabama’s Child Advocacy Centers, I am reminded on a daily basis that my vigilance in the child safety department is so important to protecting my children.

There are 33 Child Advocacy Centers (“CACs”) in the state of Alabama. When someone suspects that a child is being abused (sexual or physical abuse), neglected, or if the child is a witness to a violent crime, a social worker or law enforcement officer will refer the child to the closest CAC. The CAC is a child-friendly place where children are able to tell their story in a non-threatening manner to a trained forensic interviewer. Children who are determined to be victims are eligible for free counseling. Sadly, the vast majority of our cases are cases of child sex abuse. None of us ever want our kids to need a CAC, but when our children do need them, parents are so thankful that they exist!

Here ‘s the first thing you need to know as a mom when it comes to child abuse. Most of the time, your child will not tell you about sex abuse right away. In fact, some children may not ever mention it at all. We know that 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused before she turns 18, and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18. On average, only 1 in 10 children EVER reveal that they have been abused.

The signs of child abuse and neglect can often go unrecognized. That is why it is important to familiarize yourself with possible indicators of abuse. These indicators can be divided up into three areas- child behaviors, parent (adult) behaviors and finally, behaviors between the parent and child.

Possible indicators of abuse and neglect in children:
• Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance
• Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention
• Child has unexplained bruises, cuts and/or fractures or old injuries that are in the healing stages
• Has learning problems (or difficulty concentrating) that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes
• Is unbathed for extended periods of time, wears dirty clothes or clothes that are the wrong size
• Blood in undergarments
• Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen
• Lacks adult supervision
• Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn
• Comes to school or other activities early, stays late, and does not want to go home

Possible indicators of abuse demonstrated by parents or caregivers:
• Shows little concern for the child
• Denies the existence of—or blames the child for—the child’s problems in school or at home
• Asks teachers or other caregivers to use harsh physical discipline if the child misbehaves
• Sees the child as entirely bad, worthless, or burdensome
• Demands a level of physical or academic performance the child cannot achieve
• Looks primarily to the child for care, attention, and satisfaction of emotional needs

Possible indicators of abuse demonstrated in the parent/child relationship:
• Rarely touch or look at each other
• Consider their relationship entirely negative
• State that they do not like each other

Possible indicators of abuse demonstrated by non-caregiving adult and child relationship:
• Give the child extra attention, build a friendship with the child. Make them feel special and loved to have an adult friend that encourages and flatters them.
• Tickle, wrestle, hug, kiss, hold, and touch a child even if they do not want to.
• “Accidentally” touch a child’s private parts to see how they react.
• Lack respect for privacy – walk in on them while they’re using the bathroom or dressing.
• Make inappropriate/sexual comments or jokes to the child or even to others, regarding the child.
• Give gifts for no apparent reason, allow the child special privileges or treatment
• May spend more time with children than adults, so much that it seems odd to other adults.

So what should you do if you have a suspicion that your child has been abused? At the Alabama CACs, we recommend that you call your county DHR or law enforcement and file a report. A social worker or law enforcement officer will ask your child just enough questions to determine if a forensic interview is needed.

It is important that you refrain from questioning your child, because you don’t want to plant ideas in your child’s mind, and you don’t want to say anything that will change the child’s story and prevent prosecution from taking place, if necessary. There is a big difference between asking your child, “did Mr. Smith touch you there,” and “did something happen that made you feel worried?”

If you ever have questions about abuse, please know that your local CAC or our state office is always willing to answer your questions and point you in the right direction. You can find out more about the Alabama Network of Child Advocacy Centers at

About the Authors:

Gina M. South, J.D.
Gina lives in Montgomery, Alabama. She and her husband have 4 children at home, and 1 waiting in heaven. Gina is the State Director for the Alabama Network of Child Advocacy Centers (ANCAC), and an attorney. Previously, she was a professor at Faulkner University for 8 years.
Cristie De La Vega, B.S., M.P.A.
Cristie lives in Woodstock, Georgia with her dog Bob. She is certified in Nonprofit Management. Cristie is a Program Manager for ANCAC and has 5 years of experience working at Child Protect, the CAC for Autauga, Elmore and Montgomery Counties.

6 thoughts on “How To Recognize Child Abuse

  1. Such an important topic! When I was a preschool teacher, this was something my boss really stressed to us. I attended so many classes to learn about child abuse and how to recognize it. Thanks for sharing!


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