Recognizing and Reporting Abuse
In Missouri, the Child Abuse & Neglect Hotline number to call is 1-800-392-3738.

In our final April blog post related to National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we’d like to discuss the sensitive subject of recognizing and reporting child abuse. It’s helpful to first understand what constitutes abuse.


Physical abuse. Physical child abuse occurs when a child is purposely, physically injured or put at risk of harm by another person.

Sexual abuse. Sexual child abuse is any sexual or fondling activity with a child, including exposure to child pornography.

Emotional abuse. Emotional child abuse means injuring a child’s self-esteem or emotional well-being. It includes verbal and emotional assault — such as continually belittling or berating a child — as well as isolating, ignoring or rejecting a child.

Medical abuse. When someone purposely makes a child sick, requiring medical attention, it puts the child in serious danger of injury and unnecessary medical care. This may be due to a mental disorder called factitious disorder imposed on another, such as a parent harming a child.

Neglect. Child neglect is failure to provide adequate food, shelter, affection, supervision, education or medical care.


A child who’s being abused may feel guilty, ashamed or confused. He or she may be afraid to tell anyone about the abuse, especially if the abuser is a parent, other relative or family friend. In fact, the child may have an apparent fear of parents, adult caregivers or family friends. The following signs, and especially a combination of these, can be red flags:

  • Withdrawal from friends or usual activities
  • Changes in behavior — such as aggression, anger, hostility or hyperactivity — or changes in school performance
  • Depression, anxiety or unusual fears or a sudden loss of self-confidence
  • An apparent lack of supervision
  • Frequent absences from school or reluctance to ride the school bus
  • Reluctance to leave school activities, as if he or she doesn’t want to go home
  • Attempts at running away
  • Rebellious or defiant behavior
  • Attempts at suicide
  • Change in personality
  • Change in hygiene
  • Increased interest and knowledge about sex
  • Isolation or becomes a loner
  • Feeling of discomfort when around adults
  • Learning problems start to develop for no apparent reason
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Admits to injury by a parent or caregiver, but always follows by says it was an accident or due to playing around
  • Refuses to change clothes in front of others or engage in physical activities
  • Extreme passivity, aggression or demanding behavior
  • Rocking, head banging (regressive infantile behavior)
  • Lack of attachment to parents

Specific signs and symptoms depend on the type of abuse and can vary. Keep in mind that warning signs are just that — warning signs. The presence of warning signs doesn’t necessarily mean that a child is being abused.

Physical abuse signs and symptoms

  • Unexplained injuries, such as bruises, fractures or burns
  • Injuries that don’t match the given explanation
  • Untreated medical or dental problems

Sexual abuse signs and symptoms

  • Sexual behavior or knowledge that’s inappropriate for the child’s age
  • Pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection
  • Blood in the child’s underwear
  • Statements that he or she was sexually abused
  • Trouble walking or sitting or complaints of genital pain
  • Abuse of other children sexually

Emotional abuse signs and symptoms

  • Delayed or inappropriate emotional development
  • Loss of self-confidence or self-esteem
  • Social withdrawal or a loss of interest or enthusiasm
  • Depression
  • Headaches or stomach aches with no medical cause
  • Avoidance of certain situations, such as refusing to go to school or ride the bus
  • Desperately seeks affection
  • A decrease in school performance or loss of interest in school
  • Loss of previously acquired developmental skills

Neglect signs and symptoms

  • Poor growth or weight gain
  • Poor hygiene
  • Lack of clothing or supplies to meet physical needs
  • Taking food or money without permission
  • Eating a lot in one sitting or hiding food for later
  • Poor record of school attendance
  • Lack of appropriate attention for medical, dental or psychological problems or lack of necessary follow-up care
  • Emotional swings that are inappropriate or out of context to the situation
  • Indifference

How to Help

First and foremost, all of us should be working to promote healthy relationships and strong families within our circles of influence. Support community agencies that help prevent and  treat child abuse. Lastly, if you have reason to believe that a child is being abused, reach out for help on behalf of the helpless.

In Missouri, the Child Abuse & Neglect Hotline number to call is 1-800-392-3738.

The Children’s Division Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline is a toll-free telephone line which is answered seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Anonymous reports are accepted from individuals who are not mandated by occupation to report, but please consider identifying yourself. Being able to contact you later helps the Children’s Division staff complete a more thorough investigation.

When making a report, be sure to have the following information:

  • Name of the child
  • Name of the parent(s)
  • Name of the alleged abuser
  • Where the child can be located

You will also be asked:

  • Is the child in a life-threatening situation now?
  • How do you know about the abuse/neglect?
  • Did you witness the abuse/neglect?
  • Were there other witnesses, and if so, how can they be contacted?

Not sure that it’s abuse or neglect? You can call the local Children’s Division office to discuss your concerns. They can advise you whether or not to call the hotline. They can also give you advice that might help you help the family in crisis.

Err on the side of over-reporting. If you have the thought, “Maybe I should call…” — DO! Not all calls to the hotline are determined to be abuse/neglect. However, the Children’s Division can often provide services and assistance that can help families prevent abuse.

*most information taken from and

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