Intermountain Health logo

Please enter the city or town where you'd like to find care.

Get care nowMake an appointmentSign in

Health news and blog

How to Recognize and Report Child Abuse

How to Recognize and Report Child Abuse

By Intermountain Healthcare

Apr 25, 2019

Updated Nov 17, 2023

5 min read

How to recognize and report child abuse

In a perfect world, every child would grow up in a loving, happy, and healthy home, but in reality there are more than 3 million reports of child abuse each year in the United States and nearly 1,800 children die from abuse or neglect. Each of us has a responsibility to help protect children in our communities through education, support to children and families in need, and by reporting suspected child abuse or neglect.

Types of child abuse

  • Physical – Injury resulting from physical aggression
  • Emotional – Verbal, mental, or psychological abuse
  • Neglect – Failure to provide adequate food or clothing, a home that is hygienic and safe, medical care or provide adequate supervision
  • Sexual – Any sexual activity with a minor

How to report child abuse

If you believe a child is being abused, contact your local Child Protective Services agency or the National Child Abuse Hotline.

Reporting is anonymous and safe. You don’t have to confront someone you suspect is harming a child.

Provide as much information as possible, such as the child’s name, address, location, who the child’s siblings and parents are, and what your suspicion is. If the child is in immediate danger call law enforcement.

We have the responsibility to act, and in doing so provide a bright, safe and happy life for children everywhere.

Signs of child abuse

  • Unexplained injuries – While not every bump and bruise a child sustains will be the result of abuse, unexplained burns or bruises coupled with unconvincing explanations can be a warning sign
  • Changes in behavior, eating, sleeping, or school performance – Abuse can cause many children to be more scared, anxious, depressed, withdrawn or aggressive. Those feelings can lead to changes in a child’s eating behaviors, sleeping patterns, and performance at school
  • Returning to earlier behaviors like thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, fear of the dark or strangers and even loss of language or memory
  • Fear of going home – Abused children may seem anxious about leaving school or going with the person abusing them
  • Lack of personal care or hygiene – Abused and neglected children may appear uncared for by presenting as consistently dirty, lacking appropriate clothing for the weather or have noticeable body odor
  • Risk-taking behaviors such as using drugs or alcohol or carrying a weapon
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviors

How to talk to a child about abuse

  • Always believe a child when they are talking about abuse
  • Let the child know that the abuse is not their fault
  • Tell the child they are smart and brave for disclosing
  • Speak with the child in a private non-isolated place
  • Let the child do the talking
  • If you feel the need to ask a few questions in order to have enough information to determine if you should report, then cautiously use only open-ended questions such as “Tell me more about that”
  • Don’t express shock or panic
  • Determine the child’s immediate need for safety and report the abuse

Additional resources