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Information about physical child abuse

Missouri law defines child abuse as any physical injury, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse inflicted on a child other than by accidental means by those responsible for the child’s care, custody, and control (MO statute 210.110).

Child physical abuse and neglect occur when a child’s physical health or welfare is harmed or threatened with harm by the acts or omissions of his or her parent(s) or caregiver(s). Harm refers to infliction of physical pain, resulting in injury, disfigurement or impairment of any bodily organ or death.

How can I tell if a child is being physically abused or neglected?
Physical abuse is most often indicated by obvious signs of physical injuries:

Unexplained bruises and welts:

  • On the face, lips and mouth
  • In various states of healing (bruises of different colors, for example, or old and new scars together)
  • On large areas of the torso, back, buttocks, or thighs.
  • In clusters, forming regular patterns, or reflective of the article used to inflict them (electrical cord, belt buckle).
  • On several different surface areas (indicating the child has been hit from different directions).
  • Appearing as identical marks on both sides of the body.

Unexplained Burns, including:

  • Cigar or cigarette burns, especially on the soles of the feet, palms, back or buttocks.
  • Immersion or “wet” burns, including glove or sock-like burns and doughnut-shaped burns on the buttocks or genitals.
  • Patterned or “dry” burns, which show a clearly defined mark, left by the instrument used to inflict them (e.g., electrical burner).
  • Rope burns on the arms, legs, neck or torso.

Unexplained Fractures

  • To the skull, nose or facial features.
  • In various stages of healing (indicating they occurred at different times).
  • Multiple or spiral fractures.
  • Swollen or tender limbs.
  • Any fracture in a child under the age of two.

Unexplained Lacerations and Abrasions, including:

  • To the mouth, lips, gums or eyes.
  • To the external genitalia.
  • On the backs of arms, legs or torso.

Unexplained Abdominal Injuries, including:

  • Swelling of the abdomen.
  • Localized tenderness.
  • Constant vomiting.

Human bite marks (especially when they appear adult size or are recurrent).

Bald spots and scalp bruising (can be caused by hair pulling).

A physically abused child may:

  • Be wary of physical contact with adults (avoid or shrink away from any adult’s touch).
  • Display extreme behavior (extreme aggressiveness or extreme withdrawal).
  • Fear his or her parents.
  • Fear going home, or cry when it is time to leave a protected environment.
  • Report injuries.
  • Seem anxious to please and to let others say and do things to him/her without protest.
  • Frequently be late or absent from school.
  • Consistently arrive early to school or stay long after it is time to go home.
  • Wear extra clothing to conceal injuries.
  • Give unbelievable explanations for his or her injuries or claim no knowledge of the source of injuries.
  • Seek more than an average amount of affection from other adults.
  • Exhibit habit disorders (sucking, rocking, biting or eating disorders).
  • Have lags in emotional and intellectual development.

A physically abusive parent or caretaker may:

  • Use harsh discipline which does not fit the “offense” or the age of the child.
  • Complain that the child cries too much or “causes trouble.”
  • Be angry or defensive when asked about problems concerning the child, or appear uninterested and unconcerned.
  • Offer illogical or unconvincing explanations for a child’s injuries.
  • Appear cold or unloving toward the child.
  • Misuse drugs or alcohol.
  • Believe harsh, physical discipline is the only way to control the child.

Consequences of child physical abuse and neglect
Child abuse and neglect may permanently or seriously damage the physical, emotional and mental development of the child. The physical effects may include damage to:

  • brain
  • vital organs
  • eyes
  • ears, arms
  • legs

These injuries may result in:

  • mental retardation
  • blindness
  • deafness
  • loss of a limb
  • death

Emotional damage is also serious. Abused children often display:

  • low self concept
  • poor academic performance
  • impaired thought processes
  • poor language development
  • poor perceptual and motor skills
  • aggression
  • anxiety and self-destructiveness

These characteristics may later lead to anti-social behavior, abuse of drugs or alcohol, suicide or prostitution.