Signs of Child Abuse and Neglect

Every year between 4,000 and 5,000 children are substantiated as abused or neglected in Wisconsin. You do not need to be an expert in the definitions of abuse and neglect. It is the responsibility of Child Protective Services (CPS), law enforcement and court systems. You just need to understand the signs of possible abuse and neglect so you are prepared to recognize situations that may need to be reported.

Signs of Neglect


  • Poor hygiene, odor
  • Inappropriately dressed for weather
  • Needs medical or dental care
  • Left alone, unsupervised for long periods
  • Failure to thrive, malnutrition
  • Constant hunger, begs, or steals food
  • Extreme willingness to please
  • Frequent absence from school
  • Arrives early and stays late at school or play areas or other people’s homes

Signs of Physical Abuse


  • Bruises, welts on face, neck, chest, back
  • Injuries in the shape of object (belt, cord)
  • Unexplained burns on palms, soles of feet, back
  • Fractures that do not fit the story of how an injury occurred
  • Delay in seeking medical help
  • Extremes in behavior: very aggressive or withdrawn and shy
  • Afraid to go home
  • Frightened of parents
  • Fearful of other adults

Signs of Sexual Abuse


  • Pain, swelling, or itching in genital area
  • Bruises, bleeding, discharge in genital area
  • Difficulty walking or sitting, frequent urination, pain
  • Stained or bloody underclothing
  • Venereal disease
  • Refusal to take part in gym or other exercises
  • Poor peer relationships
  • Unusual interest in sex for age
  • Drastic change in school achievement
  • Runaway or delinquent behavior
  • Regressive or childlike behavior

Signs of Emotional Abuse


  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-denigration
  • Severe depression
  • Unusual level of aggression
  • Severe anxiety
  • Extreme withdrawal
  • Failure to learn