A new family moved into our neighborhood when I was in the seventh grade. I remember the first time I saw them. All four of the children stepped onto the bus, their eyes darting around as if one of us might pounce on them.

It was their appearance that made me stare. The boys' faces were dirty, their hair long and unkempt. The girls' hair was just as bad, snarled and twisted around their faces like dried weeds. Their stained, tattered clothing barely fit, revealing many scabs and small bruises upon their skin.

Then there was the smell. The air stirred as they passed by me, an odor of dried urine and animal feces. Older kids around me made audible sounds of disgust.

One day the oldest boy, who I think was fourteen, got on the bus with burn marks around his wrists. I asked him where they came from. He said he was tied up all night as easily as if telling us what he ate for dinner.

Although my gut told me from the very beginning that something was wrong with the children's situation, I never said anything to my mother until after I heard the boy's casual confession. My mother was calm and thanked me for telling her. Within a few weeks I never saw those children again. My mom said the state came to help them.

Looking back, I wish I would have said something sooner, but as a child I didn't know the signs of child abuse.

Make your children aware of these signs of child abuse so if the time comes, they can help a child in need.

Warning signs of emotional abuse in children

  • Is excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong

  • Shows extremes in behavior (extremely compliant or extremely demanding; extremely passive or extremely aggressive)

  • Doesn't seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver

  • Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, throwing tantrums)

Warning signs of physical abuse in children

  • Has frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts

  • Is always watchful and "on alert," as if waiting for something bad to happen

  • Has injuries that appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt

  • Has injuries that appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt

  • Shies away from touch, flinches at sudden movements, or seems afraid to go home

  • Wears inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot days

Warning signs of neglect in children

  • Clothes are ill-fitting, filthy, or inappropriate for the weather

  • Hygiene is consistently bad (unbathed, matted and unwashed hair, noticeable body odor).

  • Untreated illnesses and physical injuries

  • Is frequently unsupervised or left alone or allowed to play in unsafe situations and environments

  • Is frequently late or missing from school

Warning signs of sexual abuse in children

  • Has trouble walking or sitting

  • Displays knowledge or interest in sexual acts inappropriate to his or her age, or even seductive behavior

  • Makes strong efforts to avoid a specific person, without an obvious reason

  • Doesn't want to change clothes in front of others or participate in physical activities

  • Has a sexually transmitted disease or is pregnant, especially under the age of 14

  • Runs away from home

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