child abuseThe public seems to be mesmerized by the Casey Anthony trial and the verdict of not guilty. Frankly, we didn’t follow the trial or much of the media frenzy. We don’t really know anything about Casey’s allegedly dysfunctional family or what really happened to young Caylee.

Psychologists shouldn’t try to diagnose someone they have never met—it’s just not appropriate, ethical, or good practice. However, it does seem pretty likely that Caylee didn’t always have the care and attention that she needed in her short life.

Six million cases of abuse are reported in the US every year. About 5 kids die each day as a result of child abuse. Children are most often abused by a family or household member. We thought that given the attention that the trial has brought to the issues that a review of signs of child abuse would be appropriate. Here are some:

  • Unexplained bruises or swelling that are in different stages of healing (not always abuse—some kids are just clumsy or active).
  • Burns, again with no reasonable explanation. All children should be well supervised around fire safety.
  • Cuts with no or little explanation about the cause.
  • Fear and anxiety. Especially when a child seems extremely fearful around his or her caregivers.
  • Wearing long sleeves or pants when it is hot (possibly to cover injuries).
  • Not attending school because of injuries.
  • Frequent unexplained illness or infections.
  • Depression, suicidal thoughts, self-mutilation, over-sexualized behavior.

These signs can be the result of other factors and are not positive indications that a child has been abused. If you suspect that a child you know has been abused. DO NOT INVESTIGATE ON YOUR OWN. DO NOT CONFRONT THE ABUSER. Taking those actions could seriously interfere with getting appropriate help for the child and put the child or yourself in danger. If you feel that a child is in imminent danger, call 911.

On the other hand, if you suspect abuse, but see no signs of immediate danger, you can get advice and support from the child abuse hotline. Call 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453). The hot-line is staffed 24/7 by professionals who can help. You can make your report anonymously and you run no personal risk in making the report.

Caylee Anthony’s situation was tragic, no matter what your opinion regarding the guilt or innocence of her mother. If you have reasons for suspecting a child is in danger, don’t fail to take action.

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.