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Possible indicators of physical abuse
By themselves, these signs do not prove abuse or neglect. But they do tell us we need to know more about the child's or youth's circumstances. They can be the result of phenomena such as divorce, separation, death of a significant person or the arrival of a new sibling. That's why indicators must be assessed by professionals. The important thing to know is what the signs are, and how to report them if a child or youth may need protection.

Physical indicators

(Many physical indicators listed in the Possible indicators of neglect page can also result in physical abuse)

  • injuries (bruises, welts, cuts, burns, bite marks, fractures, etc.) that are not consistent with the explanation offered (e.g. extensive bruising to one area)
  • presence of several injuries (3+) that are in various stages of healing
  • repeated injuries over a period of time
  • injuries that form a shape or pattern that may look like the object used to make the injury (e.g. buckle, hand, iron, teeth, cigarette burns)
  • facial injuries in infants and preschool children (e.g. cuts, bruises, sores, etc.)
  • injuries not consistent with the child's age and development
  • bald patches on child's head where hair may have been torn out
  • repeated poisonings and/or accidents

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Behavioural indicators

  • runaway attempts and fear of going home
  • stilted conversation, vacant stares or frozen watchfulness, no attempt to seek comfort when hurt
  • describes self as bad and deserving to be punished
  • cannot recall how injuries occurred, or offers an inconsistent explanation
  • wary of adults or reluctant to go home
  • often absent from school/child care
  • may flinch if touched unexpectedly
  • extremely aggressive or withdrawn
  • displays indiscriminate affection-seeking behaviour
  • abusive behaviour and language in play
  • overly compliant and/or eager to please
  • poor sleeping patterns, fear of the dark, frequent nightmares
  • sad, cries frequently
  • drug/alcohol misuse
  • depression
  • poor memory and concentration
  • suicide attempts

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Updated: June 13, 2008
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