Health Blog

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month

In 2019, 33,060 children were abused or neglected in Michigan, totaling 91 children each day. It is estimated that 63 of Michigan children died from abuse or neglect. (1) Children ages 4 and younger are at higher risk for abuse or neglect. Children with special needs, such as behavioral health issues or chronic physical diagnoses that require increased care may have an increased risk, as well.

Child abuse prevention is a shared community responsibility. We must work together in recognizing those who are at risk and the signs of child maltreatment. Statewide and nationally, child abuse and neglect are considered to be one our nation’s most serious public health problems.  Many scientific studies documenting the link between the neglect of children to a wide range of medical, emotional, psychological, and behavioral disorders such as depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, severe obesity, and juvenile delinquency.

There are many types of abuse; physical, sexual, medical, emotional, and neglect. Abuse is considered intentional harm or maltreatment of another person. In a child under 18 years of age, it is considered child abuse. Child abuse can often be at the hand of someone that the child knows and trusts; often a parent or relative.

Type of Abuse What is it? Symptoms
Physical abuse Abuse that occurs when there is purposeful physical injury or a risk for harm.
  • Unexplained injuries, fractures, bruising, burns, ligature marks
  • Symptoms that don’t match “the story”
  • Unattended medical needs
  • Steals or hoards food
  • Significant changes in weight (loss or gain)
Sexual abuse A criminal act. Any sexual activity with a child (fondling, oral-genital contact, intercourse, exploitation, exposure to pornography).
  • Blood in child’s underwear
  • Statements of disclosure that ‘something’ happened
  • Pregnancy or Sexually Transmitted Infection
  • Sexual Behaviors (inappropriate for the child’s age)
  • Low self esteem
  • Withdrawal, depression
Medical abuse When false information is given to a medical provider in order for the child to gain medical attention, putting the child at risk for unnecessary care or possible injury.
  • History of repeated injuries, illness or hospitalizations
  • Symptoms that don’t match test results
  • Symptoms that seem to improve under medical care and worsen while at home
Emotional abuse When a child experiences verbal or emotional belittling, berating, degrading, isolation, or rejection that affects their self-esteem or emotional well-being.
  • Delayed or inappropriate emotional development
  • Loss or decline in previously acquired developmental skills
  • Social withdrawal or loss of interest
  • Depression
  • Avoidance of certain situations (school, riding the bus, being around certain people)
  • Desperately seeking affection
  • Decline in school performance or loss of interest
Neglect A failure to protect or provide; adequate food, shelter, supervision, education, affection or even dental or medical care.
  • Poor growth and weight or obesity
  • Poor hygiene
  • Lack of clothing or supplies to meet physical needs
  • Lack of appropriate attention for medical, dental or psychological problems or lack of follow-up care
  • Lack of supervision

Children, at any age, who are abused can feel guilt and shame. They can also feel confused and have feelings of mistrust. They may not understand the magnitude of their abuse.  They may have many fears, such as telling someone about the abuse, retaliation from their abuser, or losing their home or family. We can’t know exactly what an abused child may be going through or thinking, but we can assess and identify any red flags that can potentially identify child abuse. Keep in mind this list is not an inclusive list, nor does it mean that every child with one or more of these symptoms is being abused- it’s simply a tool to help identify potential abuse.

  • Changes in behavior; aggression, anger, hostility, hyperactivity
  • Changes in school performance
  • Withdrawal from friends
  • Withdrawal from activities (especially favorites)
  • Frequent absences from school (or work)
  • Sudden loss of self confidence
  • Depression, anxiety or unusual fears
  • Not wanting to return home
  • Attempts to run away
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation / attempts


By: Robin Atwood, BSN, RN


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