Signs of Child Abuse & Neglect


Every year between 4,000 and 5,000 children are substantiated as abused or neglected in Wisconsin. You do not need to be an expert in the definitions of abuse and neglect. It is the responsibility of Child Protective Services (CPS), law enforcement and the court systems. You just need to understand the signs of possible abuse and neglect so you are prepared to recognize situations that may need to be reported.

Source: Wisconsin Child Welfare


When a parent or caregiver fails, refuses or is unable, for reasons other than poverty, to provide the necessary care, food, clothing, medical or dental care which seriously endanger the physical health of the child

  • Poor hygiene, odor
  • Inappropriately dressed for weather
  • Needs medical or dental care
  • Left alone, unsupervised for long periods
  • Failure to thrive, malnutrition
  • Constant hunger, begs, or steals food
  • Extreme willingness to please
  • Frequent absence from school
  • Arrives early and stays late at school or play areas or other people’s homes


Physical injury inflicted on a child by other than accidental means. Physical injury includes, but is not limited to, lacerations, fractured bones, burns, internal injuries, serve or frequent bruising or great bodily harm.

  • Bruises, welts on face, neck, chest, back
  • Injuries in the shape of an object   (belt, cord, etc.)
  • Unexplained burns on palms, soles of feet, back
  • Fractures that do not fit the story of how an injury occurred
  • Delay in seeking medical help
  • Extremes in behavior: very aggressive or withdrawn and shy
  • Afraid to go home
  • Frightened of parents
  • Fearful of other adults


Sexual intercourse or sexual touching of a child, sexual exploitation, forced viewing of sexual activity or permitting, allowing or encouraging a child to engage in prostitution.

  • Pain, swelling, or itching in genital area
  • Bruises, bleeding, discharge in genital area
  • Difficulty walking or sitting, frequent urination, pain
  • Stained or bloody underclothing
  • Venereal disease
  • Refusal to take part in gym or other exercises
  • Poor peer relationships
  • Unusual interest in sex for age
  • Drastic change in school achievement
  • Runaway or delinquent behavior
  • Regressive or childlike behavior


Harm to a child's psychological or intellectual functioning which is exhibited by serve anxiety, depression, withdrawal or aggression.  

  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-denigration
  • Severe depression
  • Unusual level of aggression
  • Severe anxiety
  • Extreme withdrawal
  • Failure to learn


Deciding to get involved in a situation of suspected abuse or neglect can be difficult. It is, however, a decision that may be crucial to a child not only today, but also in the future. Parents who have abused or neglected their children may need services and support to provide safe care for their children.


Explain, as well as you can, what happened or is happening to the child. Describe the nature of the abuse or neglect. Be as specific as possible. Be prepared to give the name, address and telephone number of the child and also the name of the parent or caretaker. Even if you do not know all of this information, report what you do know. 



Any CPS Agency can take your report. If the abuse is happening now or is violent in nature, call 911. An oral or in person report must be made within 48 hours to one of the following or to law enforcement officials.

Dane County – (608) 261-5437

Dodge County – (920) 386-3750

Jefferson County – (920) 674-3105

Rock County – (608) 757-5200

PENALTY: persons required to report and who intentionally fail to report suspected child abuse or neglect may be fined up to $1,000 or imprisoned for up to 6 months or both. Persons who report in good faith are immune from civil or criminal liability.