Signs of Child Abuse


Physical abuse tends to occur at moments of great stress. Many people who commit physical abuse were abused themselves as children. As a result, they often do not realize that abuse is not appropriate discipline.

Often people who commit physical abuse also have poor impulse control. This prevents them from thinking about what happens as a result of their actions.

It is important to note that cases of child abuse are found in every racial or ethnic background and social class. It is impossible to tell abusers from non-abusers by looking at their appearance or background. An adult may bring an injured child to an emergency room with a strange explanation of the cause of the injury. The child’s injury may not be recent.

Symptoms include:

  • Black eyes
  • Broken bones that are unusual and unexplained
  • Bruise marks shaped like hands, fingers, or objects (such as a belt)
  • Bruises in areas where normal childhood activities would not usually result in bruising
  • Bulging fontanels
  • Burn (scalding) marks
  • Burns from an electric stove, radiator, heater or other hot objects, usually seen on the child’s hands, arms or buttocks
  • Choke marks around the neck
  • Cigarette burns on exposed areas or on the genitals
  • Circular marks around the wrists or ankles (signs of twisting or tying up)
  • Human bite marks
  • Lash marks
  • Separated sutures

Recognize the warning signs of abuse. The caregiver may:

  • Have alcohol or drug problems
  • Have a history of abuse or was abused as a child
  • Have emotional problems or mental illness
  • Have high stress factors, including poverty
  • Not look after the child’s hygiene or care
  • Not seem to love or have concern for the child
  • Unexplained unconsciousness in an infant

It is important as caregivers to be alert for clues of abuse; a physical exam during history taking is an excellent opportunity for us to observe for signs of abuse.

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