How Can I Tell if a Child is Being Abused or Neglected?

By Tifanie Petro

Posted on December 03, 2021

What are the signs of child abuse? It can be difficult to know if a child is being harmed. If we see an adult strike a child, for example, we can easily identify abuse. More often, however, the signs are less obvious.

Child maltreatment occurs in all types of relationships and among people with varying backgrounds of age, race, religion, financial status, sexual orientation and education. Child abuse includes physical, sexual, verbal or emotional abuse, as well as neglect.

Protecting children from abuse and neglect is a community responsibility. Most adults want to help but are unsure of how to get involved.

What to look for

  • The following are signs that a child is possibly being abused or neglected. The presence of a single sign does not prove child abuse is occurring in a family, but a closer look at the situation may be warranted when these signs appear repeatedly or in combination.
  • Injuries (bruises, burns, cuts, etc.) that they can’t or won’t explain, or the explanation doesn’t make sense
  • The dynamics have changed in their relationships with caregivers or other adults
  • Harming pets or other animals
  • Spending a lot of time at home without a parent or caregiver (if the child is young)
  • Using drugs or alcohol
  • Dirty or inadequate clothes, poor hygiene
  • Extreme behaviors, such as excessive crying, running away or truancy
  • Constant hunger, tiredness or lack of energy

How to respond to the child

If a child discloses to you that they are being abused or neglected, it’s important to respond appropriately.

  • Listen to what the child has to say
  • Tell the child you care and want to help
  • Let the child know they are not alone
  • Let the child know what is happening their fault

How to help the child

If you suspect a child is abused or neglected, or if a child has told you he or she is being abused or neglected, it’s time to take action. Any concerned person can report suspicions of child abuse and neglect.

In South Dakota, to report child abuse or neglect, please call 877-244-0864. Intake Specialists are available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. To report an emergency situation before 8 a.m., after 5 p.m., on the weekends, or during a holiday, please contact your local law enforcement.

When reporting child abuse or neglect, try to provide the following information

  • Name and address of child
  • Age of child
  • Name and address of parent(s) or guardian
  • Name of person you suspect is abusing or neglecting the child, and the address, if available
  • The reason you suspect the child is being abused or neglected

Reporting your suspicions may protect the child and pave the way for the family to get help.

To schedule a group training on child abuse, please contact Tifanie Petro at 605-393-4291.

Sources: Nationwide Children’s and Child Welfare Information Gateway (HHS)