Indicators of Abuse and Neglect
Abuse and neglect can be defined as acts of commission or omission by a parent, guardian or caretaker that results in physical, emotional or sexual abuse, exploitation or imminent risk of serious harm. Child abuse laws are present in all 50 states, with mandatory reporting laws designed to protect individuals less than 18 years of age. The four categories of abuse discussed are neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse.
Neglect is an act of omission, or failure to act on the part of a parent or guardian that results in substandard support of the child. The act may be the result of insufficient resources or information, indicating the caregivers is in need of services or support. Generally, neglect falls into one of three categories, including physical, emotional and educational. Physical neglect is the failure to meet the child's basic requirements for physical development, such as medical attention, nutrition, supervision, clothing and shelter. Emotional neglect is the failure to meet the child's needs for psychological and social development through appropriate affection and support. Educational neglect is the failure to meet the child's special educational needs or simply to educate the child. Behavioral and physical indicators neglect may be present include: chronic hunger or lethargy, begging or collecting leftovers, untreated injuries or illnesses, height and weight significantly below standards for the child's age, clothing unsuitable (no coat in winter, no shoes, too small), poor hygiene (lice), chronic uncleanliness, infestation (roaches, rodents) in the home from chronic uncleanliness, rash that goes untreated, sporadic school attendance, chronic lateness, taking on adult roles/responsibilities or arriving to school early and/or leaving school late.
Abuse is an act of commission against a child and generally falls into one of three categories, including physical abuse, sexual abuse and emotional abuse. Physical abuse is non-accidental injury committed against a child. Physical and behavioral indicators include: unexplained, chronic or repeated bruising, burns or other injuries; withdrawal, regression (acting younger than their age, a return to an outgrown behavior such as thumb-sucking), aggression, attempts to hide injuries, depression or excessive tearfulness and crying; discomfort with physical contact; age inappropriate shyness; excessive fear of a parent, guardian or care-giver; defiant or antisocial behavior, such as chronic truancy, use of alcohol or other drugs, running away or fighting.
Sexual abuse is any act of a sexual nature committed on or with a child, or in the presence of a child for the purposes of sexual gratification. The action may be for sexual gratification of the perpetrator or of a third party. By this definition, the act includes anyone who actively participates in the activity, as well as anyone who allows it to occur. The action may include involvement in pornography, touching, fondling, kissing, oral sex or intercourse. Intercourse can be vaginally, anally or orally, must involve penetration and includes penetration with a variety of body parts or objects (commonly occurs with fingers, tongue or penis). Common indicators of sexual abuse include: complaints of pain in and around the genitals; sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy; difficulty walking or sitting; unusual or offensive body odors; poor bladder or bowel control; severe psychosomatic complaints; bruises or bleeding from external genitals, anus or vagina; genital discharge; eating disorders; frequent, unexplained yeast infections, sore throats or urinary tract infections; torn, bloody or stained underclothing; regressive behaviors (bedwetting, thumb-sucking); sudden changes in behavior or mood; poor peer relationships or inability to related to peers; promiscuity; sexualized behavior inappropriate for the child's age; nightmares, disturbed sleep patterns or fear of the dark; or sudden decline in school performance.
Emotional abuse involves chronic or consistent acts or attitudes that interfere with the social or psychological development of a child, with behaviors such as rejection, withholding love, insults and criticizing. Indicators of emotional abuse include such things as: eating disorders, stuttering; weight or height significantly below expected developmental milestones; hives, stomachaches, facial tics; nail biting; regressive behaviors; poor relationships with peers; isolating from others; cruel behavior to animals or other children; substance abuse; suicide attempts or excessive risk taking; fire setting and other delinquent behaviors.
The presence of any particular indicator is not a causal link to abuse or neglect. Indicators are simply that, indicators. However, the presence of an indicator or cluster of indicators is worthy of attending to the child, their environment and safety needs.
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