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Signs of Minor Abuse

A key to reporting child abuse and neglect is being able to recognize common indicators. On this page you will find definitions, signs and symptoms of different types of child maltreatment.

Definition of Child Abuse

Under the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law, Child Abuse is defined as intentionally, knowingly or recklessly doing any of the following:

  1. Causing bodily injury to a child through any recent act or failure to act.
  2. Fabricating, feigning or intentionally exaggerating or inducing a medical symptom or disease which results in a potentially harmful medical evaluation or treatment to the child through any recent act.
  3. Causing or substantially contributing to serious mental injury to a child through any act or failure to act or a series of such acts or failures to act.
  4. Causing sexual abuse or exploitation of a child through any act or failure to act.
  5. Creating a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury to a child through any recent act or failure to act.
  6. Creating a likelihood of sexual abuse or exploitation of a child through any recent act or failure to act.
  7. Causing serious physical neglect of a child.
  8. Engaging in any of the following recent acts:
    1. Kicking, biting, throwing, burning, stabbing or cutting a child in a manner that endangers the child.
    2. Unreasonably restraining or confining a child, based on consideration of the method, location or the duration of the restraint or confinement.
    3. Forcefully shaking a child under one year of age.
    4. Forcefully slapping or otherwise striking a child under one year of age.
    5. Interfering with the breathing of a child.
    6. Causing a child to be present at a location while a violation of 18 Pa.C.S. § 7508.2 (relating to operation of methamphetamine laboratory) is occurring, provided that the violation is being investigated by law enforcement.
    7. Leaving a child unsupervised with an individual, other than the child's parent, who the actor knows or reasonably should have known:
      1. Is required to register as a Tier II or Tier III sexual offender under 42 Pa.C.S. Ch. 97 Subch. H (relating to registration of sexual offenders), where the victim of the sexual offense was under 18 years of age when the crime was committed.
      2. Has been determined to be a sexually violent predator under 42 Pa.C.S. § 9799.24 (relating to assessments) or any of its predecessors.
      3. Has been determined to be a sexually violent delinquent child as defined in 42 Pa.C.S. § 9799.12 (relating to definitions).
  9. Causing the death of the child through any act or failure to act.

A person acts knowingly when they are aware that their conduct is of that nature or that such circumstances exist and they are aware that it is practically certain that their conduct will cause such a result.

A person acts recklessly when they consciously disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from their conduct. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that, considering the nature and intent of the conduct and the circumstances known to them, its disregard involves a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.

A person acts intentionally when they consciously engage in conduct of that nature or cause such a result and are aware of such circumstances or believe or hope that they exist.

Categories of Child Abuse & Physical/Behavioral Indicators

There are four general categories of child abuse:

  1. Physical Abuse
  2. Sexual Abuse
  3. Psychological Abuse
  4. Neglect or Maltreatment

Physical Abuse is inflicting or allowing someone to inflict serious physical injury other than by accidental means.

Serious physical neglect includes egregious behavior that would include situations when the behavior might have only occurred one time. Previously there had to be prolonged or repeated behavior.

Physical Indicators

  • Unexplained injuries
  • Unbelievable or inconsistent explanations of injuries
  • Multiple bruises in various stages of healing
  • Injuries that are inconsistent with a child's age/developmental level
  • Bruises located on face, ears, necks, buttocks, backs, chests, thighs, back of legs and genitalia
  • Bruises that resemble distinctive patterns such as grab marks, human bite marks, cigarette burns or impressions of other instruments of abuse (belts, buckles, rope, electric cords, or kitchen utensils)

Behavioral Indicators

  • Fear of going home
  • Extreme apprehensiveness / vigilance
  • Pronounced aggression or passivity
  • Flinches easily or avoids being touched
  • Play includes abusive talk or behavior
  • Inability to recall how injuries occurred or account of injuries is inconsistent with the nature of the injuries
  • Fear of parent or caregiver

Sexual Abuse includes situations in which a child is forced to engage in sexual activity with adults or other children.

Physical Indicators

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Bedwetting
  • Pain or irritation in genital/anal area
  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Pregnancy
  • Positive testing for sexually transmitted disease or HIV
  • Excessive or injurious masturbation

Behavioral Indicators

  • Sexually promiscuous
  • Developmental age-inappropriate sexual play and/or drawings
  • Cruelty to others
  • Cruelty to animals
  • Fire setting
  • Anxiousness
  • Withdrawn

The definition of sexual abuse includes the exception that consensual activities between a child who is 14 years of age or older and another person who is 14 years of age or older and whose age is within four years of the child's age are excluded as sexual abuse unless any of the following were committed: rape, statutory sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse sexual assault, institutional sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault, indecent exposure, incest, prostitution, sexual abuse, unlawful contact with a minor, or sexual exploitation.

Psychological Abuse includes severe rejection, humiliation and actions intended to produce fear or extreme guilt in a child.

Physical Indicators

  • Frequent psychosomatic complaints (nausea, stomach ache, headache, etc.)
  • Bedwetting
  • Self-inflicted injuries
  • Speech disorders

Behavioral Indicators

  • Expressing feelings of inadequacy
  • Fearful of trying new things
  • Overly compliant
  • Poor peer relationships
  • Excessive dependence on adults
  • Habit disorders (sucking, rocking, etc.)
  • Eating disorders

Neglect or Maltreatment means that a child's physical, mental or emotional condition has been impaired, or placed in imminent danger of impairment, by the failure of the child's parent or other person legally responsible to exercise a minimum degree of care.

Physical Indicators

  • Lack of adequate medical, dental or vision care
  • Obvious malnourishment, hunger or listlessness
  • Lack of shelter
  • Child's weight is significantly lower than normal for age and gender
  • Developmental delays
  • Persistent (untreated) conditions (head lice, diaper rash, unclean body, etc.)
  • Lack of personal care, poor hygiene
  • Clothing that is dirty, inappropriate for weather conditions, too small or too large

Behavioral Indicators

  • Not registered or regularly attending school
  • Inadequate or inappropriate supervision
  • Poor impulse control
  • Frequently fatigued
  • Putting on the role of the parent

Is This Child Abuse or an Accident?

When you encounter a child with an injury, there are four categories to consider that can help you distinguish between child abuse and normal bruises. A combination of these factors may help you determine whether or not an injury is suspicious, and more likely to be caused by abuse.

Many injuries leave a bruise that has a discernible pattern.
The severity of an injury should be taken into account.
Body Location
The location of an injury can help you determine whether or not the child was abused.
Ask the adult what happened to the child. Is the child's injury consistent with the reason given by the adult?