The warning signs and symptoms of child abuse and neglect can vary from child to child. Disabled children may be especially vulnerable to abuse, because they may have an impaired capacity to resist or avoid abuse. They may have speech, language and communication needs which may make it difficult to tell others what is happening.

By understanding the warning signs, you can respond to problems as early as possible. It is important to recognise that a warning sign doesn’t automatically mean a child is being abused.

There are a number of warning indicators which might suggest that a child may be being abused or neglected.

Signs and indicators of abuse or neglect

Some of the following signs might be indicators of abuse or neglect:

  • Children whose behaviour changes – they may become aggressive, challenging, disruptive, withdrawn or clingy, or they might have difficulty sleeping or start wetting the bed;
  • Children with clothes which are ill-fitting and/or dirty;
  • Children with consistently poor hygiene;
  • Children who make strong efforts to avoid specific family members or friends, without an obvious reason;
  • Children who don’t want to change clothes in front of others or participate in physical activities;
  • Children who are having problems at school, for example, a sudden lack of concentration and learning or they appear to be tired and hungry;
  • Children who talk about being left home alone, with inappropriate carers or with strangers;
  • Children who reach developmental milestones, such as learning to speak or walk, late, with no medical reason;
  • Children who are regularly missing from school or education;
  • Children who are reluctant to go home after school;
  • Children with poor school attendance and punctuality, or who are consistently late being picked up;
  • Parents who are dismissive and non-responsive to practitioners’ concerns;
  • Parents who collect their children from school when drunk, or under the influence of drugs;
  • Children who drink alcohol regularly from an early age;
  • Children who are concerned for younger siblings without explaining why;
  • Children who talk about running away; and
  • Children who shy away from being touched or flinch at sudden movements