Signs of Child Abuse

If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, do believe the child and don’t walk away. Don’t try to investigate. Do report reasonable suspicions by calling the 24-hour Abuse Hotline in Texas at 1-800-252-5400. In an emergency situation, call 911 for your local law enforcement agency.  If the situation does not require an emergency response, you can make your report on-line at

There are four major types of child maltreatment: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect.

Physical abuse is physical injury as a result of punching, beating, shaking, kicking, biting, throwing, stabbing, hitting, choking or otherwise harming a child. An injury of this type is considered abuse regardless of whether the caregiver intended to hurt the child. Suspect physical abuse when you see:
• Frequent injuries such as bruises, cuts, black eyes or burns without adequate explanations
• Frequent complaints of pains without obvious injury
• Burns or bruises in unusual patterns that may indicate the use of an instrument or human bite; cigarette burns on any part of the body
• Lack of reaction to pain
• Aggressive, disruptive and destructive behavior
• Passive, withdrawn and emotionless behavior
• Fear of going home or seeing parents; injuries that appear after a child has not been seen for several days
• Unreasonable clothing that may hide injuries to arms or legs

Suspect sexual abuse when you see:
• Physical signs of sexually transmitted disease
• Evidence of injury to the genital area
• Pregnancy in a young girl
• Difficulty in sitting or walking
• Frequent expression of sexual activity between adult and child
• Extreme fear of being alone with adults of a certain sex
• Sexually suggestive, inappropriate or promiscuous behavior
• Knowledge of sexual relations beyond what is expected for a child’s age
• Sexual victimization of other children

Emotional abuse is mental or emotional injury that results in an observable and material impairment in a child’s growth, development or psychological functioning. It includes extreme forms of punishment such as confining a child in a dark closet, habitual scapegoating, belittling and rejecting treatment for a child. Suspect emotional abuse when you see:
• Over compliance
• Low self esteem
• Severe depression, anxiety or aggression
• Difficulty making friends or doing things with other children
• Lagging in physical, emotional and intellectual development
• Caregiver who belittles child, withholds love and seems unconcerned about child’s problems.

Neglect is failure to provide for a child’s basic needs. Suspect neglect when you see:
• Obvious malnourishment
• Lack of personal cleanliness
• Torn or dirty clothing
• Stealing or begging for food
• Child left unattended for long periods of time
• Need for glasses, dental care of other medical attention
• Frequent tardiness or absence from school

Source: Texas Department of Family & Protective Services

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