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Recognizing & Reporting Child Abuse

If you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected, you should call the Florida Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873).

A child’s safety is everyone’s responsibility.  That’s why everyone, especially parents and other caregivers, should know the  signs and symptoms of child abuse, abandonment, and neglect.  You want to be able recognize signs in your own children and other children in your community to do your part to keep Florida’s children safe. 

Each of us has a responsibility to report suspected child abuse or neglect.  Remember, you do not have to know that abuse has occurred; you just need a reasonable suspicion.  It is the responsibility of Child Protective Services to make a determination as to whether abuse has occurred.

Children communicate their distress in many different ways. General guidelines when considering the traumatic reactions of children at different developmental stages include the following:

Infants

Infants depend on adults to look after them. They sense the emotions of their caregiver and respond accordingly.  If an infant feels unprotected she may display a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Fussing
  • Sleep problems
  • Disruptions in eating
  • Withdrawal
  • Lethargy and unresponsiveness

Toddlers

At this age children begin to interact with the broader physical and social environment.  Common reactions in toddlers include:

  • Sleep problems
  • Disruptions in eating
  • Increased tantrums
  • Toileting problems (e.g. wetting him/herself)
  • Increased clinging to caretaker
  • Withdrawal

Preschool Children

Children at this age may have more social interactions outside of the family. Their language, play, social and physical skills are more advanced.  Common responses include:

  • Sleep problems
  • Disruptions in eating
  • Increased tantrums
  • Bed-wetting
  • Irritability and frustration
  • Defiance
  • Difficulty separating from caretakers
  • Preoccupation with traumatic events

School-Age Children

Children at this age are more independent, are better able to talk about their thoughts and feelings, and are engaged in friendships and participation in group activities.  School-age children may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Sleep problems
  • Disruptions in eating
  • Difficulty separating from caretakers
  • Preoccupation with details of traumatic event
  • Anxiety and aggression
  • School difficulties
  • Problems with attention and hyperactivity

Adolescents

Adolescents - feel out of control due to the physical changes that are occurring to their bodies.  They experience struggles to become independent from their families and rely more heavily on relationships with peers and teachers.  They may show a tendency to deny or exaggerate what happens around them and to feel that they are invincible.  Adolescent children may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Changes in sleep or eating habits
  • Significant weight gain or loss
  • School difficulties -  missed school; poor grades
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Anxiety and aggression
  • Problems with relationships
  • Drug/alcohol abuse

These are only possible behavioral signs that a child has experienced abuse.  These signs could also be indicators of other problems such as being the victim of bullying or other trauma.  You will need to talk to the child or caregiver to find out more information.

There are also physical signs of potential abuse.  They range from visible burns or welts marks to broken bones.  For more information please open the attached informational brochure.
Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse - brochure

If you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected, you should call the Florida Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873).