Recognizing Abuse & Neglect

The Protective Services Team at Lurie Children’s is actively involved in teaching professionals, parents and other concerned persons how to recognize child abuse and neglect. As the video below illustrates, bystanders often have an opportunity to help stop child abuse.

For children who have already fallen victim to child maltreatment, the most important factor is that someone can identify and stop the abuse. Below are some of the signs and symptoms for three major types of child maltreatment.

Physical Abuse

A physically abused child may have frequent, unusual or unexplained injuries, and may sometimes tell you that an adult is abusing them. It is not your job to investigate. Report the child's story to Child Protective Services and leave the investigation to them.

Suspicious injuries that may indicate child abuse include:

  • Frequent accidents or injuries
  • Any unexplained injury
  • Many bruises, or bruises in an infant or child who is not walking yet
  • Bruises in unusual places, such as on or behind ears, on the neck, abdomen or on the back of arms or legs
  • Burns or bruises showing the pattern of an object
  • Frequent or unexplained broken bones
  • Broken bones in an infant or a child who is not walking yet
  • Human bite marks
  • An injury that obviously requires medical care but the parent delays seeking medical care  

Suspect Physical Child Abuse

If the child:

  • Reports the injury is from a parent or adult caregiver
  • Wears clothing to purposely conceal an injury or that is not seasonal, such as long sleeves and pants in the summer
  • Refuses to undress for gym or for required physical exams at school
  • Seems frightened by parents or caregivers
  • Is often late or absent from school
  • Comes early to school and seems reluctant to go home afterwards
  • Is overly compliant, withdrawn, gives in readily and allows others to do for them without protest

If the parent(s):

  • Takes the child to different physicians or hospitals for each injury
  • Gives inconsistent or vague explanations for the child's injuries
  • Describes the child as evil or bad
  • Has  little or no interest in the child's well-being
  • Does not respond appropriate to the child's pain
  • Blames the child for their injuries
  • Consistently criticizes and has inappropriate expectations of the child

Be aware that parents and others who care for children may be caring and good caretakers under most circumstances, but given a particular set of circumstances, they may hurt a child.

Child Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse of children may be easily hidden, but there are several warning signs. For example, some sexually abused children display inappropriate sexual behaviors with other children or adults. They may exhibit behavior changes, changes in school performance, problems sleeping or changes in appetite. Children who are sexually abused may complain of headaches, stomach aches or genital pain. While some sexually abused children tell people of the abuse, many do not (even as adults).

Get Involved

If a child describes sexual abuse or tells you they’re being abused, do not try to investigate and determine if they are telling the truth. Leave that to the professionals. Report the abuse immediately to Child Protective Services or to law enforcement. It is important that the child be evaluated by professionals who are experienced in evaluating child sexual abuse. 

Suspect child sexual abuse if:

  • You witness inappropriate sexual behaviors between an adult and a child
  • A child demonstrates sophisticated or unusual sexual knowledge or behaviors
  • Engages in sexualized play
  • Imitates sexual intercourse

If a child reports sexual abuse, don't ignore it. Report suspected abuse to the authorities.


Child neglect is the most common form of child maltreatment. Nearly two-thirds of all reports to Child Protective Services involve some form of child neglect.

Neglect of a child can be the failure to provide any of the following:

  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Shelter
  • Supervision
  • Protection from harm
  • Education
  • Attention to emotional needs
  • Medical treatment

Medical neglect is when a parent or caregiver fails to seek out medical care for a child with a new or existing medical problem. If a parent initially brings a child for medical care, but doesn't follow through with a child's treatment plan or medications, this may also be considered medical neglect.

Supervisory neglect is when a child is left alone in inappropriate situations for the child's age and developmental stage. Some examples of supervisory neglect are an infant left in the care of a 6-year-old sibling or a 10- and 12-year-old left alone for a week while parents are on vacation.

What to Do

If you see abuse, stop it. Unfortunately people frequently witness child abuse and are afraid to do anything about it. In fact, half of all people that witnessed child maltreatment said they did nothing.

Reporting Abuse

In Illinois, call the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) hotline:

  • 1.800.25.ABUSE
  • You can request that your phone call be anonymous.  However, it is more helpful to investigators if they can reach you to discuss your concerns.
  • Have key details available: What, When and Where.
  • Outside of Illinois, go to Child Help USA or call 1.800.4.A.CHILD to find your state's local child protection agency.
  • If you need an urgent response, call 911.

Commonly Asked Questi​ons

I'm not sure w​hether I should make a report. What can I do?

If you aren't sure if you should report child abuse or not, call the IDCFS hotline (1.800.24.ABUSE) and tell them your situation. They should be able to advise you.

What informat​ion do I need to have to call IDCFS?

When you call the hotline, be sure to have the child's name, address and age. You should also be able to tell the hotline worker the type of child maltreatment you suspect, who the suspected perpetrators are and their relationship to the child. Any other information you can provide IDCFS that you think will be helpful should also be shared.

To learn more about reporting to IDCFS, including what happens once a report is made, visit the IDCFS website.