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Physical Abuse

Physical abuse: Infliction of physical harm or the causation of a child’s deterioration, and may include, but shall not be limited to, maltreatment or exploiting a child to the extent the child’s health is endangered. (K.S.A. 38-2202)

Physical abuse may be the result of a deliberate attempt to harm a child, but not always. It can result from severe discipline, such as using a belt on a child, or physical punishment that is inappropriate to the child’s age or physical condition. In physical abuse, unpredictability, lashing out in anger and using fear to control behavior are elements that are present. These elements separate abuse from discipline.

Indicators of Physical Abuse

Child abuse is not always obvious, but both physical and behavioral indicators of child abuse may be evident. Physical indicators should be considered based on inconsistent medical history, the child’s developmental state and the presence of other indicators if known. The earlier abuse is caught, the better the chance of recovery and appropriate treatment for a child.

Listed below are common physical and behavioral indicators of physical abuse. Seeing one warning sign does not automatically mean that a child is being abused. It is important to dig deeper and look for a pattern of abuse behavior and warning signs.

Common Physical Indicators

  • Bruises, welts, or bite marks
    • Different colors or in various stages of healing
    • Back, buttocks & back of legs
    • Groups, clusters or patterns
    • Not common for age & activity level of child
    • Defense wounds to back of arms and hands
    • Shape of bruise ie: shape of an object
  • Lacerations, abrasions or unusual bleeding
    • Loop type lacerations from belts, straps and extension cords
    • Lacerations to the backside of the body (whipping)
    • Series or groups of straight line lacerations or welts
  • Fractures, scars or internal injuries
  • Head trauma
    • Black eyes
    • Split lips or loose teeth
    • Lumps on the head
    • Facial bruises, or bruising behind the ear
  • Burns
    • Scald and immersion burns
      • Sock-like, glove-like, doughnut shaped on buttocks or genitalia
      • Splash burns
    • Contact burns
      • Cigar, cigarette especially on the soles, palms, back, buttocks
      • Patterned like electric iron, electric burner, fire place tool, etc.
      • Rope burns on arms, legs, neck and torso

Common Behavioral Indicators

  • Demonstrating behavioral extremes, including very aggressive or demanding conduct
  • Appearing frightened of the parent or caretaker or shrinks at the approach of adults
  • Being full of rage, passive or withdrawn
  • Being apprehensive when other children cry
  • Verbally reporting abuse
  • Being extremely hyperactive, distractible or irritable
  • Demonstrating disorganized thinking, self injuries or suicidal behavior
  • Running away from home or engaging in illegal behavior such as drug abuse, gang activity or cult activity
  • Displaying severe depression, flashbacks (including hallucinatory experiences) and dissociative disorders
  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Child starts wetting or soiling clothing or bed
  • Sleep problems including nightmares
  • Cannot recall how injuries occurred or offers an inconsistent explanation

The parent or other adult caregiver may:

  • Offer conflicting, unconvincing or no explanation for the child’s injury
  • Describes the child in a very negative way
  • Uses harsh physical discipline with the child
  • Have a history of abuse as a child
  • Have a history of abusing animals or pets

Please note that these behavioral indicators must be considered with other evidence. Ask yourself these questions when determining whether physical abuse has occurred:

  • Is the explanation consistent with physical evidence?
  • Are there any other physical or behavior indicators?
  • Are there family/environmental stresses that are apparent?

Source: Kansas Department for Children and Families.

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