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An abused child sits outside with his head in his hands.
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4 Types of Child Abuse and How to Spot Them

According to the CDC, at least 1 in 7 children experienced abuse or neglect in the past year in the U.S., and according to, five children die each day due to abuse or neglect. As a community of people who work with kids and strive to show them love, this is a sad and shocking statistic. We must all make an effort to help put a stop to these trends.

What Is Child Abuse?

Although different states have different terms and definitions, child abuse usually falls under four main categories: physical, neglect, sexual, and emotional. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Child Welfare Information Gateway provides some useful information on the subject.

1. Physical

These are nonaccidental injuries and harm that come from a child’s caretaker. It doesn’t matter if the adult meant to hurt the child or not. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, physical discipline, such as spanking or paddling, is not considered abuse as long as it is reasonable and causes no bodily injury to the child.

2. Neglect

When a child’s basic needs are not being met, that is also considered abuse. Caretakers must provide physical needs (food and shelter), medical needs, educational needs, and emotional needs (not allowing kids to use alcohol or drugs, giving psychological help when needed).

3. Sexual

The exploitation of children is a form of abuse. So allowing or coercing children to engage in, or expose them to, any form of inappropriate sexual situations falls under this category of abuse.

4. Emotional

This can be the hardest form of abuse to identify, but if a child is being abused in another way, emotional abuse can usually be found as well. In brief, emotional abuse stunts a child’s emotional growth with threats, rejection, or insults.

What Are the Signs?

There are some simple signs you can look for that will help you spot child abuse. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Child Welfare Information Gateway gives these tips to look for:

Does the child seem like they are always looking for something bad to happen? Is he passive or overly compliant? Has she had a sudden change in behavior? Does the parent blame the child for most of their problems? Does the parent ask for harsh physical discipline when their child misbehaves? When the child and parent are together, are they separated and don’t look at each other?

These may be signs that abuse is present. There are also specific red flags to look for when abuse is suspected.

1. Physical

A child may have unexplained injuries, doesn’t want to leave to go home, or is frightened of other parents.

2. Neglect

A child steals food or begs for more, isn’t wearing appropriate clothing for the weather, or is always dirty and has a strong body odor.

3. Sexual

A child has difficulty walking or sitting, experiences sudden changes in their appetite, or may demonstrate unusual or sophisticated sexual knowledge.

4. Emotional

A child demonstrates extreme emotional behaviors (super aggressive or overly passive), acts too mature or too childish, or does not show any attachment to their caretaker.

These signs are not always connected to abuse, but if you see one or more of these in a child, consider the possibility of maltreatment.

What Can I Do?

Prevent Child Abuse America says that one way to help stop child abuse before it starts is to help reduce stress on families. Lend a helping hand and be a friend to parents who need it. Get to know neighbors and families of your kids and show them that you are there for them.

If you suspect abuse has already occurred, make sure to report it. Most states have their own numbers to call, and Childhelp USA has a national Child Abuse Hotline that operates 24/7 (1.800.4.A.CHILD or 1.800.422.4453).

We see in Matthew 18 just how much Jesus loves children. All kids deserve protection. If you suspect something, report it, and be the voice for a child who needs it.

An article by the New York Times says that children with disabilities are four times more likely to be attacked physically and three times more likely to be attacked sexually. Abuse is more prevalent with these special kids. We have tips on how to help develop ministry to kids with disabilities, so you can cultivate a safe place for them to begin and grow a friendship with Jesus.

Keep your ministry safe with Shepherd’s Watch Background Checks

Want more articles for children’s ministry leaders? Check these out.

7 thoughts on “4 Types of Child Abuse and How to Spot Them

  1. An abused child does not know that they are abused…that is what I remember most from my violent and chaotic childhood.


      We’re so sorry for the abusive childhood you had. Thank you for sharing that tip to educate people to help children who are abused.

  2. Asia masion

    I love your website

    • Sierra Archuleta

      Thanks Asia! We are so glad you enjoy the content on our website.

  3. Yanamsao John

    Study for child abuse cases around the worldwide..,symptoms, causes, prevention and treatment for them

  4. Henry Killingsworth

    You made a good point when you mentioned that it is important to report child abuse. Would it be a good idea to report child abuse to a welfare consultant as well as the authorities? Contacting a welfare agent seems like a good idea because they will help guide you to the right decisions.

    • Sierra Gomez

      You can certainly take that extra form of action, every church may take different steps, as long as the abuse is reported is the biggest concern.

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