While recognizing the warning signs of child abuse in young children can be difficult, it becomes even more challenging when dealing with infants. Unable to voice their concerns or emotions, infants rely solely on adults to keep them safe.
A Cry for Help
Whether it’s a friend, family member or stranger you suspect of abusing a child, it’s important to take action. Here are some behavioral, emotional and physical signs that should trigger your concern:
- Unexplained bruises, burns, abrasions or other injuries. Infants who are not yet crawling should not have bruises or abrasions. Any bruise, burn or abrasion is cause for concern, and a medical evaluation should be arranged as soon as possible. Although bumping into walls by accident while holding an infant happens, look for marks that resemble a belt, cigarette burn or signs of other abusive disciplinary items.
- An unkempt appearance. If you notice that a child routinely looks disheveled, dirty or tired, it could mean he or she is being neglected. While all infants cry, constant whimpering or crying and an extremely low weight should trigger suspicion of malnourishment.
- Discomfort or skittishness around people. Although infants can’t express themselves verbally, they can make informative movements and flinches. If an infant cries at the sound of a male voice or shies away when an adult reaches for him or her, pay close attention to abuser recognition clues.
Report Your Suspicions
While an infant’s caretaker may have a valid explanation for bruises or other warning signs, never take a potential abuser’s word at face value. Calling Child Protective Services could save the infant’s life. Before you make an important call for help, ensure that you’re able to provide the caller with the following information:
- Name of the suspected abuser
- The child’s name, address and phone number
- The age and gender of the child
- Where the child is currently located
- What type of abuse you witnessed
To report a possible case of child abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD.
This article was reviewed by Sheila Day, L.C.S.W., program coordinator, Child Protection Team, Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St.Vincent.