Child abuse scars its young victims for life. In addition to the bruises, burns, and broken bones, abused children suffer emotional damage that frequently never heals. Some children, like two-year-old Evan Hippeard, suffer abuse of such unthinkable intensity that their lives are cut short.
Statistics on child abuse are elusive; it is impossible to determine how many cases of child abuse are left unreported or even undiagnosed. What is certain, however, is that millions of children are physically abused every year, and that abuse can strike just about anywhere.
In fact, there are several warning signs that experts say can tip you off to whether a child you know may be in danger.
Dr. Eli Newberger, from Boston Children's Hospital, says abuse frequently leaves clues that almost anyone can spot.
Physical Marks of Abuse
- Any bruising or injuries on a child under six months old
- Bite marks
- Bruising of the lower back, buttocks, or posterior thighs
- Unusual or unexplained burns, lacerations, or abrasions
- Weight loss
- Frequent "accidents" or broken bones
- Terror, fear of a particular person or place
- Change in appetite or sleep patterns
- A return to bed-wetting by toilet-trained children
- Personality shifts; child may become more aggressive
Another problem to be on the lookout for is what doctors call "Munchausen syndrome," in which parents feign or create injuries in their children and seek treatment in order to draw attention to their own problems.
Dr. Newberger says a phone call to a pediatrician is in order if you spot any of those potential warning signs. In addition, you can contact the national ChildHelp hotline at 1-800-4A-Child.
If you're concerned about child abuse in your own family, or you would like to learn more about prevention, you can call the national Parents Anonymous organization at 909-621-6184.
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