Child Abuse, Neglect, Sexual Abuse: What are the Signs and How You Can Help

It is estimated that 1 in 4 children in the United States will be abused on any given day and almost 5 children will die every day from abuse and neglect.  There are different types of abuse with vary degrees in each.

Physical abuse:  Physical abuse includes striking, kicking, burning, biting, hair pulling, choking, throwing, shoving, whipping or any other action that injures a child. Even if the caregiver didn’t mean to cause injury, when the child is injured it is abuse. Physical discipline from a parent that does not injure or impair a child is not considered abuse; however non-violent alternatives are always available.  28.3% of adults report being physically abused as a child.
    • Signs of physical abuse in a child:
    • Any injury to a child who is not crawling yet
    • Visible and severe injuries
    • Injuries at different stages of healing
    • On different surfaces of the body
    • Unexplained or explained in a way that doesn’t make sense
    • Distinctive shape
    • Frequency, timing and history of injuries (frequent, after weekends, vacations, school absences)
    • Behavioral:
    • Aggression toward peers, pets, other animals
    • Seems afraid of parents or other adults
    • Fear, withdrawal, depression, anxiety
    • Wears long sleeves out of season
    • Violent themes in fantasy, art, etc.
    • Nightmares, insomnia
    • Reports injury, severe discipline
    • Immaturity, acting out, emotional and behavior extremes
    • Self-destructive behavior or attitudes

Sexual abuse: Sexual abuse occurs when an adult uses a child for sexual purposes or involves a child in sexual acts. It also includes when a child who is older or more powerful uses another child for sexual gratification or excitement.  20.7% of adults report being sexually abused as a child.
  • on-contact abuse
  • Making a child view a sex act
  • Making a child view or show sex organs
  • Inappropriate sexual talk
  • Contact abuse
  • Fondling and oral sex
  • Penetration
  • Making children perform a sex act
  • Exploitation
  • Child prostitution and child pornography
Signs of sexual abuse in a child:
  • Difficulty sitting, walking, bowel problems
  • Torn, stained, bloody undergarments
  • Bleeding, bruises, pain, swelling, itching of genital area
  • Frequent urinary tract infections or yeast infections
  • Any sexually transmitted disease or related symptoms
  • Doesn’t want to change clothes (e.g., for P.E.)
  • Withdrawn, depressed, anxious
  • Eating disorders, preoccupation with body
  • Aggression, delinquency, poor peer relationships
  • Poor self-image, poor self-care, lack of confidence
  • Sudden absenteeism, decline in school performance
  • Substance abuse, running away, recklessness, suicide attempts
  • Sleep disturbance, fear of bedtime, nightmares, bed wetting (at advanced age)
  • Sexual acting out, excessive masturbation
  • Unusual or repetitive soothing behaviors (hand-washing, pacing, rocking, etc.)
  • Sexual behavior or knowledge that is advanced or unusual
  • Reports sexual abuse

Emotional Abuse: When a parent or caregiver harms a child’s mental and social development, or causes severe emotional harm, it is considered emotional abuse. While a single incident may be abuse, most often emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior that causes damage over time.  10.6% of adults report being emotionally abused as a child.
  • Rejecting or ignoring: telling a child he or she is unwanted or unloved, showing little interest in child, not initiating or returning affection, not listening to the child, not validating the child’s feelings, breaking promises, cutting child off in conversation
  • Shaming or humiliating: calling a child names, criticizing, belittling, demeaning, berating, mocking, using language or taking action that takes aim at child’s feelings of self-worth
  • Terrorizing: accusing, blaming, insulting, punishing with or threatening abandonment, harm or death, setting a child up for failure, manipulating, taking advantage of a child’s weakness or reliance on adults, slandering, screaming, yelling
  • Isolating: keeping child from peers and positive activities, confining child to small area, forbidding play or other stimulating experiences
  • Corrupting: engaging child in criminal acts, telling lies to justify actions or ideas, encouraging misbehavior
Signs of emotional abuse in a child:
  • Delays in development
  • Wetting bed, pants
  • Speech disorders
  • Health problems like ulcers, skin disorders
  • Obesity and weight fluctuation
  • Habits like sucking, biting, rocking
  • Learning disabilities and developmental delays
  • Overly compliant or defensive
  • Extreme emotions, aggression, withdrawal
  • Anxieties, phobias, sleep disorders
  • Destructive or anti-social behaviors (violence, cruelty, vandalism, stealing, cheating, lying)
  • Behavior that is inappropriate for age (too adult, too infantile)
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Child neglect: Child neglect is when a parent or caregiver does not give the care, supervision, affection and support needed for a child’s health, safety and well-being. Child neglect includes:
  • Physical neglect and inadequate supervision
  • Emotional neglect
  • Medical neglect
  • Educational neglect

Physical Neglect
Children need enough care to be healthy and enough supervision to be safe. Adults that care for children must provide clothing, food and drink. A child also needs safe, healthy shelter, and adequate supervision.
Examples of physical neglect:

  • Deserting a child or refusing to take custody of a child who is under your care
  • Repeatedly leaving a child in another’s custody for days or weeks at a time
  • Failing to provide enough healthy food and drink
  • Failing to provide clothes that are appropriate to the weather
  • Failing to ensure adequate personal hygiene
  • Not supervising a child appropriately
  • Leaving the child with an inappropriate caregiver
  • Exposing a child to unsafe/unsanitary environments or situations

Emotional Neglect: Children require enough affection and attention to feel loved and supported. If a child shows signs of psychological illness, it must be treated.
Examples of emotional neglect:

  • Ignoring a child’s need for attention, affection and emotional support
  • Exposing a child to extreme or frequent violence, especially domestic violence
  • Permitting a child to use drugs, use alcohol, or engage in crime
  • Keeping a child isolated from friends and loved ones

Medical Neglect
Some states do not prosecute parents who withhold certain types of medical care for religious reasons, but they may get a court order to protect the child’s life.  Parents and caregivers must provide children with appropriate treatment for injuries and illness. They must also provide basic preventive care to make sure their child stays safe and healthy.

Examples of medical neglect:

  • Not taking child to hospital or appropriate medical professional for serious illness or injury
  • Keeping a child from getting needed treatment
  • Not providing preventative medical and dental care
  • Failing to follow medical recommendations for a child
  • Educational Neglect
  • Parents and schools share responsibility for making sure children have access to opportunities for academic success.

Examples of educational neglect:
  • Allowing a child to miss too much school
  • Not enrolling a child in school (or not providing comparable home-based education)
  • Keeping a child from needed special education services

Signs of Child Neglect
There is no “smoking gun” for most child neglect. While even one instance of neglect can cause lifelong harm to a child, neglect often requires a pattern of behavior over a period of time.

Signs in Caregiver
There is no “typical neglectful parent.” Nevertheless, certain indicators may suggest a parent or caregiver needs help to nurture and protect the child or children in their care:

  • Displays indifference or lack of care toward the child
  • Depression, apathy, drug/alcohol abuse and other mental health issues
  • Denies problems with child or blames the child for problems
  • Views child negatively
  • Relies on child for own care and well-being
  • Signs in Child
While a single indicator may not be cause for alarm, children who are neglected often show that they need help:

  • Clothing that is the wrong size, in disrepair, dirty, or not right for the weather
  • Often hungry, stockpiles food, seeks food, may even show signs of malnutrition (like distended belly, protruding bones)
  • Very low body weight, height for age
  • Often tired, sleepy, listless
  • Hygiene problems, body odor
  • Talks about caring for younger siblings, not having a caregiver at home
  • Untreated medical and dental problems, incomplete immunizations
  • Truancy, frequently incomplete homework, frequent changes of school

Children of alcoholics or substance abusers typically experience behavioral, medical, educational and emotional consequences of their parents’ abuse. Parental substance abuse negatively affects a child’s normal development, causing increased risk of long-term problems for a child including greater risk for child abuse and neglect. In families where alcohol or other drugs are being abused, behavior is frequently unpredictable and communication is unclear. Family life is characterized by chaos and unpredictability. Behavior can range from loving to withdrawn to crazy. Structure and rules may be either nonexistent or inconsistent. Children, who may not understand that their parent’s behavior and mood is determined by the amount of alcohol or other drugs in their bloodstream, can feel confused and insecure. They love their parents and worry about them, and yet feel angry and hurt that their parents do not love them enough to stop using.

It is estimated that 9 percent of children in this country (6 million) live with at least one parent who abuses alcohol or other drugs. This means one in five American children live in homes with parental substance abuse. Research has demonstrated that children of substance abusing parents are three times more likely to experience abuse—physical, sexual, or emotional—or neglect than children in non-substance abusing households   The basic needs of children, including nutrition, supervision, and nurturing, often go unmet due to parental substance abuse, resulting in neglect. Sexual abuse is more frequent in chaotic and dysfunctional families where communication has broken down and roles have been blurred. Children who live in high conflict homes are more likely to have lower self-esteem and less internal locus of control. This puts children of substance use abusers at higher risk for being re-victimized in the future. For instance, female children of substance abusers are more likely to be involved with men who abuse substances, which leave them, open to even more abuse.

Even if the children themselves are not themselves victimized by family violence, simply witnessing violence can have emotionally destructive consequences. Children of substance abusers are six times more likely to witness domestic violence than are other children.  As a result of these stressors, Children of substance abusers often have difficulty in school. They may be unable to focus on their school work due to the conflicts and tensions at home. Children from substance abusing families are more likely to have learning disabilities; repeat more grades; poor concentration; attend more schools; and are more likely to be truant, delinquent and drop out of school because of pregnancy, expulsion or institutionalization.
A parent’s substance abuse can have other effects on children besides parent-child interactions. For example, if a parent loses a job because of drinking or drug use, the child suffers the economic consequences, especially if this is the household’s only income. Without employment, a family might lose their home, car or other valuable possessions. A child’s health might also be compromised by a parent’s drinking or drug problem. The child might develop stress-related health problems like gastrointestinal disorders, headaches, migraines, or asthma, causing them to miss school. And a child whose parent’s substance abuse causes neglect might become injured because of failure to adequately child-proof the house or because of inadequate supervision, or even lack immunization and other routine well-child care.  However, the fact remains that the majority of children of substance abusers do not end up in horrible circumstances. One in four children of substance abusers will become substance abusers themselves. Most youths are able to draw upon their inner strengths to cope with their circumstances and succeed in life.
Child neglect is highly associated with parental substance use including the failure of the parent to seek appropriate and timely medical care for children, to provide adequate nutrition, and to safeguard the home against poisoning or accidents. Additionally, significant alcohol use by women during pregnancy can result in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Fetal Alcohol Effects in infants, which in turn results in lifelong, organic dysfunctions in children. Further, children of substance abusers may exhibit “failure to thrive” syndrome because of their neglect experiences.

Almost all children who have been exposed to parental substance abuse experience a number of types of emotional consequences of this experience, including mistrust, guilt, anger, shame, confusion, fear, ambivalence, insecurity, loss of self-esteem, anxiety, and/or sexual conflict. These types of emotional experiences can led to eating disorders, anxiety and depressive disorders, drug or alcohol dependence and sociopathy, such as antisocial personality disorder.

Additionally, families in which one or both parents abuse substances, and particularly families with an addicted parent, often experience a number of other problems including mental illness, unemployment, high levels of stress, and impaired family functioning, all of which can put children at risk for abuse. The statistics vary, but studies have shown that between one-third and two-thirds of child maltreatment cases involve substance abuse, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Additionally, maltreated children of substance abusing parents are more likely to have poorer physical, intellectual, social, and emotional outcomes and are at greater risk of developing substance abuse problems themselves. In one study, children whose parents abuse alcohol and other drugs were three times more likely to be abused and more than four times more likely to be neglected than children from non-abusing families. One-third of children entering foster care in 2016 were due at least in part to parental drug abuse—an increase of nearly 50 percent since 2005.
Neglect, the finding in 61 percent of child maltreatment cases and the leading reason for foster care entry, is also often are the result of substance abuse.  Data indicate that abused or neglected children from substance abusing families are more likely to be placed in foster care and are more likely to remain there longer than maltreated children from non-substance abusing families. Thus, we seen the enormous need for more foster care homes in the county, including Winnemucca.  Currently, there are roughly 400 children in Rural Nevada that are in foster care.  Every day, more children and youth enter the foster care system and need safe, loving homes.  Some of these children need a temporary place to stay while others need families willing to commit to their care for a lifetime.  Without caring foster homes in each community of Rural Nevada, children removed from those areas must be placed in outlying communities, away from their family, friends, and everything that is familiar to them. (NV DCFS 2019).

Seldom do children in homes where a parent or caregivers are substance abusers report any abuse, neglect, or maltreatment on their own.  If you suspect a child may be in an endangered environment, please report your suspicions. If you are a parent or caregiver with a substance abuse issue, there is help out there for you.  Please seek help before the destructive cycle continues on to your next generation.  For referrals or resources, please contact Humboldt AVA at or 702-343-2943 or 775-722-4564.

To report suspected child abuse in Nevada, please call 1-833-803-1183 or 1-800-992-5757 or 911

If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, YOU ARE NEEDED! Please contact Lori Nichols at 888-423-2659 or 775- 684-1967, email: email: or visit to learn more:

To get help for a substance use issue, please call:  1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit






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