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Recognizing Signs of Child Abuse

Updated: Apr 2, 2023

Recognizing signs of child abuse can be challenging. However, you may have a gnawing feeling that something isn’t right with the child. What do you do or say when you have this feeling?


What does the Pennsylvania Child Protection Services Law say about child abuse?


The Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law defines child abuse and neglect as causing serious and intentional mental or physical injuries. Included within this are sexual abuse/exploitation, serious neglect, and the imminent risk of serious physical or sexual injury to children under 18 years old. These can be caused by a perpetrator or someone who’s recognizing signs of child abuse and taking no action.


Who typically abuses children?


Unfortunately, anyone who’s around children could potentially abuse them which is why recognizing signs of child abuse is so important. In Pennsylvania alone, there are over 24,000 reports of neglect or suspected abuse made yearly. Since these are only “reported” cases, it’s quite possible that the number of “actual” cases is even higher since many people are hesitant to get involved. They’re afraid of being wrong or potentially causing the child more problems. This shouldn’t be the case though. In fact, experts say it's better to err on the side of caution because you may save a child’s life.


Are there any red flags abusers themselves exhibit?


Although children frequently remain silent, there are some signs that abusers exhibit which should raise a red flag in your mind. These things that require action include:

· Showing the child no respect

· Being unable or unwilling to recognize that the child is experiencing physical or emotional distress

· Blaming the child for the problems that are occurring

· Demeaning or ridiculing the child to the point that the child becomes embarrassed or shameful

· Routinely using negative terms (e.g., worthless, evil) to criticize or “put down” the child

· Expecting the child to give them attention and becoming jealous when the child gives others attention

· Using harsh physical discipline

· Having unrealistic expectations of the child (e.g., demanding an inappropriate level of performance)

· Severely limiting the contact the child has with others

· Providing conflicting or unconvincing explanations for why a child is injured, if one is given at all

· Blaming the child for lying and wanting attention if they speak up against them


What do you tell a child who you think is being abused?


Finding words, especially the right words, when you find yourself recognizing signs of child abuse is difficult. While you can reassure the child that you care and that you believe them, the most important thing you should do is listen and give them comfort and support.


What should you do when you start recognizing signs of child abuse?


Typically, children are abused by those they know and trust. They’ll also report this information to someone they know and trust. If this person is you, you’re obliged to report the information to the proper authorities. Your county’s CYS (Children and Youth Agency) caseworkers and law enforcement agents will then determine whether abuse has occurred. This is based on investigations they make and whether there’s sufficient evidence of abuse or neglect.


If you interact with children as part of your job, you’re what’s known as a “mandated reporter.” This means that you’re required to report any child abuse that you suspect may be occurring.


Regardless of who you are or what may be happening, if you’re tempted to approach the abuser yourself, don’t. Instead, you should contact a professional (e.g., the child’s healthcare provider, child protective agency, police). To learn more about recognizing signs of child abuse check out Healing Family Trauma Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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