About Child Abuse and Child Neglect

Reporting Suspected Abuse and Neglect

While most of us want nothing but the best for our children, child abuse and neglect are too common. While the words “abuse” and “neglect” are often used interchangeably, each type of maltreatment is distinct. Abuse is the  physical, sexual or emotional maltreatment of a child. Abuse and neglect also includes human trafficking. Any minor child who is a victim of human trafficking should also be reported. Neglect, on the other hand, is the failure to give children the necessary care they need. The emotional scars of both types of maltreatment are often deep and no child deserves to be maltreated.

If you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected, or if you think a child may have died from being mistreated, you must report what you know to the county Department of Social Services. This is the law. Do not be afraid to report. As long as you are acting in good faith, you cannot be held liable by law.

Recognizing Child Abuse

The following signs may signal the presence of child abuse or neglect. It is important to note that any one of these things could mean anything or nothing. There are many reasons a child may not want to go home on a particular day or may be overly compliant when they are trying to please a favorite teacher. However, when you have a cluster of two or more of these, this should raise a red flag to at least talk to the child and or parent, or at most call your local Child Protective Services agency. It is also important to remember that issues related solely to poverty are not considered child maltreatment issues.

The Child:

  • Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance
  • Displays overt sexualized behavior or exhibits sexual knowledge that is inconsistent with their age
  • Has not received medical attention for a physical injury that has been brought to the parents' attention
  • Has learning problems that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes
  • Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen
  • Is overly compliant, an overachiever or too responsible
  • Comes to school early, stays late and does not want to go home
  • Has unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones or black eyes
  • Has bruises or marks in non-prominent, “fleshy” areas of the body (for example, inside of biceps or behind the knees)
  • Has fading bruises or other marks noticeable after an absence from school
  • Seems frightened of the parents and protests or cries when it is time to go home from school
  • Shrinks at the approach of adults
  • Reports injury by a parent or another adult caregiver

The Parent or Other Adult Caregiver:

  • Shows little concern for the child, rarely responding to the school's requests for information, conferences or home visits
  • Denies the existence of or blames the child for problems in school or at home
  • Asks the classroom teacher to use harsh physical discipline if the child misbehaves
  • Sees the child as entirely bad, worthless or burdensome
  • Demands perfection, or a level of physical or academic performance the child cannot achieve
  • Offers conflicting, unconvincing or no explanation for the child's injury
  • Describes the child as "evil" or in some other very negative way
  • Is abusing alcohol, prescription drugs or illegal drugs, and that abuse is having an adverse impact on the child
  • Uses harsh physical discipline with the child
  • Has a history of abuse as a child


For Parents Who Need Help

Seeking help is a sign of strength. Take Triple P’s – Positive Parenting Program online for free, visit our Services and Information Catalog, or call the DHHS Customer Service Center (1-800-662-7030) for assistance finding programs and people to help you. 
If this is an emergency, call 911. To report suspected child maltreatment, contact a county department of Social Services

Or contact your:

12 Alternatives to Lashing Out at Your Child

The next time everyday pressures build up to the point where you feel like lashing out -- Stop! Try any of these simple alternatives. You'll feel better ... and so will your child.

  • Take a deep breath ... and another. Then remember you are the adult.
  • Close your eyes and imagine you're hearing what your child is about to hear.
  • Press your lips together and count to 10 ... or better yet, to 20.
  • Put your child in a time-out chair. (Remember this rule: one time-out minute for each year of age.)
  • Put yourself in a time-out chair. Think about why you are angry: is it your child or is your child simply a convenient target for your anger?
  • Phone a friend.
  • If someone can watch the children, go outside and take a walk.
  • Take a hot bath or splash cold water on your face.
  • Hug a pillow.
  • Turn on some music. Maybe even sing along.
  • Pick up a pencil and write down as many helpful words as you can think of. Save the list.
  • Call 1-800-4-A-CHILD

If You Are Reported for Child Abuse or Neglect

County Departments of Social Services have teams of people who assess reports of suspected child abuse and neglect.

If someone has made a report because they are concerned about the safety of your child, you may be visited by a social worker from your county Department of Social Services. These professionals are required by law to assess any report of child maltreatment. That means they need to talk to your child, talk to you, and perhaps to teachers, neighbors or others who are close to the family. The worker has the right to talk to your child without your permission. However, the worker will only exercise this right if the worker deems that the child's safety warrants it.

Remember that the worker is only trying to make sure your child is safe. Honesty and cooperation will make the process easier. Often the parent is offered needed support.

Most of the time, children reported to CPS are not removed from their homes. Children are placed away from their parents only when it becomes necessary to protect them from harm.

More information about procedures and rights is available at North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 7B. For additional information, please refer to  “Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect in North Carolina.”