April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time when the community can come together to prevent child abuse and neglect. It can be tough to recognize the signs of abuse, since it takes on many different forms. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Child Welfare Information Gateway provides a list of signs for parents, caregivers, teachers, and friends to look for in children:
Signs of Neglect:
- The child shows signs of malnutrition or begs, steals, or hoards food
- The child has poor hygiene: matted hair, dirty skin, or severe body odor
- The child has unattended physical or medical problems
- The child has excessive unexplained school absences
Signs of Physical Abuse:
- The child has broken bones or unexplained bruises, burns, or welts in various stages of healing
- The child is unable to explain an injury, or explanations given by the child or caretaker are inconsistent with the injury
- The child is unusually frightened of a parent or caretaker, or is afraid to go home
Signs of Sexual Abuse:
- The child displays age-inappropriate play with toys, self, or others
- The child has inappropriate knowledge about sex
- The child reports sexual abuse
Signs of Emotional Abuse:
- The parent or caretaker constantly criticizes, threatens, belittles, insults, or rejects the child with no evidence of love, support, or guidance
- The child exhibits extremes in behavior from overly aggressive to overly passive
How Children’s National Can Help
Children’s National Health System’s Child and Adolescent Protection Center’s Division Chief, Allison Jackson, MD, said another sign to physical abuse is wearing clothing that is inappropriate for the weather, like long sweaters in July when it is typically warm in an effort to conceal injuries.
The Center evaluates and treats children suspected of abuse. Anyone can report concerns for child abuse to a child protective service agency.
“If abuse is identified, we report suspicions of child abuse and neglect,” Dr. Jackson said. “We also treat any physical injuries and provide mental health services for child abuse victims.”
Dr. Jackson said they try to connect families with community resources so they can be a better parent. She said that sometimes parents of abused children were abused themselves and had never sought treatment. The team helps to make sure these families have all of the resources they need to be better families.
To make appointments with the Child and Adolescent Protection Center, call 202-476-4072.
To report child abuse, contact the child protective service agency in the jurisdiction in which the abuse occurred:
- District of Columbia: 202-671-7233 (SAFE)
- Prince George’s County: 301-909-2450
- Montgomery County: 240-777-4417
- State of Virginia: 800-552-7096
- National Reporting Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD