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Potential Signs of Child Neglect and Abuse

If you are a parent or a teacher, you may have noticed a child that seems to behave peculiarly, or you may be concerned about a child’s well-being. Meanwhile, you may be unaware that your child is displaying signs of child neglect. Sometimes the things we overlook appear to others to be child neglect or abuse. Keeping in mind what child neglect and abuse look like will help us to identify a genuine cause for concern. Here are the potential signs of child neglect and abuse and the steps you can take if you believe a child is in danger. 

Beyond Light Bruising

Many people assume constant bruising is the only physical sign of child abuse, but bruising is not an immediate cause for concern unless the child voices a complaint against the parent. For children who visit the emergency room, child protective services enquire parents whose children have severe injuries to ensure abuse has not occurred. It is expected for emergency room visits to result in a visit from child protective services. They can determine whether or not a child is in danger. 


Evaluating a child’s physical appearance goes beyond scratches and bruises to determine abuse or neglect. Matted hair, dirty hands, unkept clothes, unclean teeth, foul odors, and untreated bodily infections over time indicate a parent is not caring for a child properly. Children who have hair combed and are clean-cut reflect their family in a positive light. On a surface level, people may assume the child is messy or poor, but consistent wounds, infections, or smells should be a warning sign of neglect. Speak with a staff member at the child’s school or reach out to the parent if you know them personally before you make assumptions.

Irresponsible Behavior

If a teacher notices that a child is out of school unexcused for some time or if caretakers frequently forget to pick up their child at school, this may indicate a lack of concern. Accidents happen. Parents miscommunicate, but consistent irresponsibility point to neglect. Schools should reach out to parents, but if they do not reach them concerning a child’s absence, police presence may be necessary. Daycares that notice unexplained absences or other irresponsible behaviors may reach out to their local family services agency. 

Lack of Nutrition Shows Neglect

Not packing a child’s lunch regularly or signing up for lunches indicate neglect. Keep in mind some parents don’t speak English (or your nation’s official language); they may not know about lunch programs for children who need financial assistance. Reach out for a helping hand before you assume they disregard the child’s needs. Approach the parent to help them receive free lunch and breakfast for their child. Ask if you or the school can help them find food assistance or housing programs. If the parent still appears to be sending their child to school with no lunches and a constant array of excuses, you may need to contact child protection services. 

The Child’s Behavior 

One of the most condemning pieces of evidence that a child suffers from abuse or neglect is the peculiar behavior they display. Overly aggressive, violent, and dangerous behaviors such as cutting or self-harm indicate problems at home. If you notice life-threatening or concerning behaviors, notify someone who is a community mentor for the child, such as their principal, youth leader, or coach. Withdrawal, antisocial behavior, and regression are also signs of abuse. Visit Stanford Medicine for the complete list of abnormal behaviors children who suffer neglect or abuse experience. 

What to Do Next

These following signs are potential signs of child neglect and abuse. If you believe that a child suffers from neglect due to a parent’s inability to cope with financial pressures, a bereavement, or illness, offer your support to the parent if you don’t believe they are an immediate threat. Reach out to a local church or school for guidance and assistance. If you suspect that the neglect is long-term irresponsible behavior or that the child suffers from abuse, contact your local child protection agency. They will not disclose your information to the caretakers. If you know a child is in immediate danger, call 911. Contact us at Triangle Learning Center to see how we can help you properly care for your child. 

*We are not a medical or government agency and are not qualified to give professional advice. Our advice comes from experience and child protection agency resources. Triangle Learning Center will not accept responsibility for injuries, lawsuits, or death. Check our sources below for more information concerning neglect and abuse. 

Sources-signs.pdf (childwelfare.gov)

Signs & Symptoms | Child Abuse | Stanford Medicine

Child abuse – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic

How to Report Child Abuse — Kids Matter Inc.