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Learn to recognize signs, symptoms of child abuse

CONTACT:  Public Relations: 570-214-9091
Nov. 22, 2011

DANVILLE, Pa. – The first step in helping abused or neglected children is learning to recognize the signs of child abuse and neglect, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

However, experts at the Child Welfare Information Gateway caution that the presence of a single sign does not prove child abuse is occurring in a family. A closer look may be warranted when these signs appear repeatedly or in combination.

“More than 90 percent of sexual assault victims know their assailant, making it ever more important for parents, educators and caretakers to take notice of the signs and symptoms of sexual abuse,” said Nicole Quinlan, Ph.D., one of several Geisinger Health System pediatric psychologists trained to identify behavioral changes that may signify the potential presence of sexual abuse.

A survey by Hope Shining, one of the nation’s victim-assistance organizations, revealed that many Americans, despite their overwhelming concern and personal experiences, lack the knowledge to stop child abuse.

In fact, the survey showed that 72 percent said it is difficult to identify child abuse and a majority, 52 percent, said it is extremely difficult to identify. Additionally, less than 10 percent could identify basic signs known to be associated with child abuse.

Signs that may signal the presence of child abuse or neglect include:

  • Sudden changes in behavior or school performance;
  • No medical intervention for physical or medical issues;
  • Learning problems (or difficulty concentrating) that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes;
  • Being watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen;
  • Lack of adult supervision;
  • Being overly compliant, passive or withdrawn;
  • Coming to school or other activities early, staying late and not wanting to go home.

Prevent Child Abuse America, a child advocacy group, details the following behavioral warning signs that a child may have been abused:

  • Fear of the dark or other sleeping problems;
  • Extreme fear of “monsters;”
  • Spacing out at odd times;
  • Loss of appetite or trouble eating or swallowing;
  • Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, anger or withdrawal;
  • Fear of certain people or places;
  • Chronic stomach illness with no identifiable reason;
  • An older child behaving like a younger child, such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking;
  • Sexual activities with toys or other children such as simulating sex with dolls or asking other children/siblings to behave sexually;
  • Use of new words for private body parts;
  • Refusing to talk about a “secret” he/she has with an adult or older child;
  • Talking about a new older friend;
  • Suddenly having money

About Geisinger Health System
Geisinger is an integrated health services organization widely recognized for its innovative use of the electronic health record, and the development and implementation of innovative care models including ProvenHealth Navigator, an advanced medical home model, and ProvenCare program. The system serves more than 2.6 million residents throughout 42 counties in central and northeastern Pennsylvania. For more information, visit Follow the latest Geisinger news and more at  and

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