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Spotting Signs of Child Abuse

Child abuse is a growing epidemic in the United States that can happen to any family. It does not discriminate between races, socioeconomic classes, or communities, and abuse can occur from birth through the teenage years.

With the coronavirus keeping most children at home, it has become harder to spot the signs of child abuse in a virtual environment. This also can keep children with their abusers, as parents are most likely to be the perpetrators of child abuse.

How Common Is Child Abuse?

In 2019, the latest year data is available, there were about 656,000 victims of child abuse nationally, or about 8.9 victims per 1,000 children. Of those victims, young girls and children under the age of 3 were most likely to be abused.

In the same year, an estimated 1,840 children died from neglect and abuse, or about 2.5 children out of every 100,000.

Across Maryland’s 1.3 million minors, 62,351 reports of potential child abuse were made in 2019. However, only about a third of those reports were monitored through the state’s Child Protective Services division.

“It definitely takes an entire village to keep children safe,” Ross DiEdoardo, director of CASA of Harford County, told the Baltimore Sun. “It’s not just the responsibility of social services. It’s not just the responsibility of law enforcement. It’s the responsibility of every single person in the community.”

What are the Signs of Child Abuse?

There’s a stark difference between child discipline and what is considered child abuse in Maryland. Any intentional harm or mistreatment to a minor constitutes abuse, but not all — or even most — abuse is sexual abuse or physical abuse. In 2019, about 60 percent of child abuse victims were neglected, whereas about 10 percent were physically abused and about 7 percent were sexually abused.

Children can also be verbally abused, emotionally abused, or mentally abused. Here are some tips for how to recognize child abuse in someone you know:

Changes in behavior: Children grow into themselves, but sudden and rapid changes in behavior, like anxiety, aggression, depression, and fear, could be reactions to child abuse and trauma. Be on the lookout for childhood signs of anxiety and depression, such as a loss of interest in their favorite activities, extreme feelings of sadness, unexplained pains, hostility, or restlessness.

Unexplained injuries: All kids get scraped and bruised from regular life, but unexplainable burns, cuts, and bruises are clear visible signs of potential child abuse. Even when explanations are given, they may be unconvincing and need to be looked into further. If you think something is wrong, say something immediately.

Fear of going home: A child’s home should be their ultimate safe space. If they’re adamant they should stay at school, a friend’s house, or a relative’s home, they may fear being alone with an abuser.

Changes in eating or sleeping habits: A routine is key for growing bodies. Sudden changes in eating, like refusing to eat at lunch or a new obsession with eating, could stem from abuse in the home. Similarly, children who are experiencing excessive nightmares during nap time or falling asleep in class could be struggling to get the rest they need.

Changes in school performance: When a straight A student begins struggling in class, or a social butterfly begins to withdraw from classmates, they could be dealing with child abuse at home.

Lack of personal care of hygiene: Neglected children are sometimes dressed in stained clothing or have dirt and food on their body. However, not all neglected children will have clear visible signs of abuse.

Risk-taking behaviors: As child abuse victims get older, they often begin experimenting with alcohol, drugs, and sex. This can happen for children who are still being abused as well as children who were removed from their abusers.

How To Report Child Abuse

If you suspect a child is being abused, call (800) 4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453) immediately. Most child abuse reports are made by teachers, police officers, and doctors, but they can be made anonymously.

To report child abuse in Maryland, call the Department of Human Services at (800) 332-6347, or your local department of social services.

If you are looking for treatment options for a child abuse victim in Maryland, contact us today to set up an appointment.