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Interactive Training

Know the signs

The first step in helping an abused or neglected child is learning to recognize the signs. A single sign does not prove that child abuse or neglect is occurring, and there is no one sign of child abuse or neglect.

Please click each button and read the text under each.

When you're finished with this page, click on the blue "Reporting" tab near the top of the page.



Physical abuse

Children who are physically abused may:

  • Be self-destructive, aggressive, or withdrawn
  • Run away frequently
  • Explain their injuries in strange or inconsistent ways
  • Seem afraid of adults, including parents or guardians
  • Intentionally hurt animals
  • Report that an adult is hurting them

Physically abusive parents may:

  • Offer no explanation, or a conflicting or unconvincing explanation, for the child's injury
  • Consistently talk about the child negatively
  • Use harsh physical punishment with the child, or ask teachers or other caregivers to use harsh physical punishment

Sexual abuse

All sexual activity between an adult and a child is sexual abuse, even if it doesn’t involve penetration, force, pain, or touching.

Sexual touching between children can also be sexual abuse if there is a significant age difference between the children (usually 3 or more years) or the children are very different developmentally or in size.

Sexually abused children may:

  • Act seductive or engage in inappropriate sex play
  • Show great worry for their siblings
  • Gain or lose a large amount of weight
  • Attempt suicide
  • Feel threatened by physical contact
  • Have difficulty walking or sitting
  • Have nightmares or wet the bed
  • Become pregnant or contract a venereal disease
  • Run away from home

Adults who sexually abuse children may:

  • Be very protective of the child or limit the child’s contact with other children, especially of the opposite sex
  • Tend to keep to themselves
  • Be jealous or controlling with family members

There are three types of adult sexual abuse of children:

  • Touching sexual abuse
  • Non-touching sexual abuse
  • Sexual exploitation

Whenever you learn that an adult is doing any of the following things, you must report it:

Touching sexual abuse

  • Fondling a child’s genitals, breasts, or buttocks
  • Making a child touch another person’s sexual organs
  • Any penetration of a child’s vagina, anus, or mouth by a penis or any other object for no valid medical reason

Non-touching sexual abuse

  • Indecent exposure or being naked in public
  • Showing children pornographic material
  • Masturbating in the presence of a child
  • Making sexual comments to a child
  • Harassing, encouraging, pressuring, or bargaining with a child to perform sexually
  • Achieving sexual arousal by watching an unsuspecting, non-consenting child who is undressing or unclothed

Sexual exploitation

  • Using a child for prostitution
  • Taking pictures of a child for pornographic use
  • Denying age-appropriate privacy to a child who is dressing, undressing, or using the bathroom

Workplace computers

Child pornography found on a workplace computer must, under the law, be reported.

Physical neglect

There are three main types of physical neglect.

  • Hygienic neglect means that a child is consistently dirty or smells bad. Children don’t develop body odor until they reach puberty, so a bad-smelling younger child is a warning sign. Physically neglected children may have lice or fleas which go untreated even after a parent or guardian is instructed on how to eliminate them. Physical neglect can also mean that the child wears clothing inappropriate for the weather, such as flip-flops and a light sweater in the winter, when this affects the child’s health or safety.
  • Medical neglect means that parents or guardians don’t take the child to the dentist, doctor, or hospital when a health problem or condition is getting worse or becomes dangerous to the child.
  • Nutritional neglect means that a child doesn’t get enough to eat or drink. Perhaps there is no food in the house, or perhaps the child’s parent or guardian cuts off a child’s food and drink for several days as a punishment.

Children who are neglected may:

  • Always be sleepy or tired
  • Steal food or money, or beg from classmates
  • Report that no caretaker is at home
  • Have frequent absences from school
  • Show extreme loneliness and need for affection
  • Show an obvious lack of needed medical, dental, or vision care
  • Be physically dirty and have body odor
  • Wear clothing that isn’t appropriate for the weather
  • Use alcohol or drugs

Neglectful parents may:

  • Seem not to care about the child
  • Seem depressed or not interested in anything
  • Behave irrationally or strangely
  • Abuse alcohol or drugs
  • Deny that the child has problems, or blame the child for problems at school or home
  • Consistently talk about the child negatively
  • Expect the child to do too much or to be perfect
  • Use the child to fulfill their own emotional needs rather than being attuned to the emotional needs of the child

Psychological maltreatment

Psychological maltreatment is a form of neglect. A child is psychologically maltreated when a parent or guardian rejects, isolates, threatens, or ignores the child, or exposes the child to negative influences. This action is considered psychological maltreatment regardless of whether it is intentional.

Psychological maltreatment usually means that the child receives, sees, or hears repeated inappropriate emotional displays or language by the parent or guardian. This may include fighting, yelling, name-calling, and threats to either the child or another family member. On the other hand, there may be no abuse—no yelling, no name-calling—but also no warmth or concern for the child. Children who have all of their physical needs met but are emotionally neglected may fail to develop the ability to form a trusting, loving bond with anyone—ever.

Children may be considered psychologically maltreated if:

  • They show emotional or behavioral problems related to the parent’s behavior
  • They are placed in the middle of disputes between their parents
  • They are subjected to extreme discipline
  • They are subjected to extreme confinement, such as being locked in a closet
  • The parent excessively controls their actions, which inhibits their growth and development
  • They are exposed to domestic violence, drugs, or criminal activity
  • The parent's ability to provide protection or supervision is limited (by substance abuse, mental illness, or other factors)

Psychologically maltreated children may:

  • Have habits such as sucking, rocking, head-banging, or biting
  • Not like to be around people, even parents or guardians
  • Break things on purpose
  • Be too passive or too aggressive with others
  • Engage in criminal behavior such as stealing
  • Intentionally hurt animals
  • Attempt suicide
  • Seem cold or distant to other children or to adults
  • Become violently angry without warning
  • Choose to be alone
  • Be uncomfortable when someone shows them care or concern

Psychologically maltreating adults may:

  • Constantly blame, make fun of, or yell at the child
  • Reject offers of help for the child’s problems
  • Openly reject the child
  • Discipline inappropriately, such as locking the child in a closet
  • Insist on being in total control of the child’s actions
  • Abuse alcohol or drugs
  • Use words to attack, bully, scare, or shame the child
  • Make the child lie to protect the adult
  • Put the child in the middle of arguments between parents, or ask the child to choose sides between parents
  • Show unconcern for the child
  • Reject offers of help for the child’s problems
  • Ignore the child’s physical or emotional needs

Environmental neglect

Environmental neglect is the failure of a parent to provide care and support, food, shelter, clothing, or medical care sufficient for the child’s needs. Conditions that suggest environmental neglect might include:

  • Broken glass
  • Spoiled food
  • No locks on open windows; no gates on stairs when toddlers are present
  • Lead paint or exposed asbestos
  • Unmanaged animal or human waste
  • Leaking gas or toxic fumes
  • Broken or missing windows
  • No heat
  • Drugs, alcohol, or guns where the child can access them
  • No fire exits

Inadequate supervision

A child’s parent or guardian is responsible for making sure that the child is taken care of appropriately, whether the parent or guardian does it or makes arrangements with someone else to do it.

Children under age 9 should never be left in a home without a caregiver. If they must be left alone in a vehicle, it should be for only a short time and the caregiver should have them in sight at all times.

Children shouldn’t be given the responsibility to babysit until they are at least 12 years old. They should take a childcare training course, and parents should be careful to monitor how many children they care for, how long and late they must stay, how they will get home, and whether the children they are babysitting have special needs.

Children under age 15 should not be home alone overnight. A child who is old enough to stay at home alone should know where parents or guardians are, how to reach them, how long they will be gone, and what to do if fire, injury, or any other emergency happens.


Abandonment may exist when the parent or guardian of the child fails to make appropriate childcare arrangements with a responsible substitute caregiver during the parent or guardian's extended absence.

Appropriate childcare arrangements satisfy the following criteria

  • The substitute caregiver is a responsible person.
  • The substitute caregiver knows the parent or guardian’s whereabouts and the anticipated length of the substitute caregiving arrangement.
  • The parent or guardian returns at the designated time—or the substitute caregiver has indicated both willingness and ability to continue caring for the child longer than planned.
  • The parent or guardian and the substitute caregiver make appropriate arrangements for emergency situations.

Abandonment may exist when:

  • The parent or guardian has relinquished caregiving.
  • The parent or guardian has been absent for 96 hours (4 days) and his or her whereabouts are not known.
  • The substitute caregiver is not being financially supported for the care of the child.

Abandoned infant

By law, a parent can leave any child who is less than one year old at a hospital if the child is unharmed and the parent is unable to care for the child.

Educational neglect

Under North Dakota law, a child between the ages of 7 and 16 must be in a public or private school or a home school operated under the law. It is considered educational neglect to keep children out of school to care for other children, perform household chores, or for other inappropriate reasons.

Educational neglect is different from truancy.

  • Educational neglect focuses on the behavior of the parent or guardian. For a child to be considered a suspected victim of educational neglect, the parent or guardian must have been unable or unwilling to meet the child's educational needs.
  • Truancy focuses on the behavior of the child. For a child to be found truant, the child must intend to be absent from school. Truancy should not be reported to Child Protection Services.

Substance Exposed Newborns

Prenatal exposure to alcohol and controlled substances has the potential to cause a wide spectrum of physical and developmental challenges for these infants. There is also potential for ongoing challenges in the stability and well-being of infants who have been prenatally exposed, and their families if substance use disorders are not addressed with appropriate treatment and long-term recovery support.

Substance Exposed Newborns may:

  • Be affected by central nervous system disturbances such as high pitched cry, body tremors, and myoclonic jerks
  • Be affected by gastro-intestinal disturbances such as diarrhea and vomiting
  • Require environmental modifications such as a dim lit room, quiet, and reduced stimuli
  • Have poor feeding and sucking
  • Have delays in growth and development

Substance exposed newborns are a high risk population due to the vulnerability of the child in addition to any physical and developmental risks presented by prenatal substance exposure.

The caregiver of a substance exposed newborn may be severely impaired by the substance abuse disorder, struggling in recovery, and may have a co-occurring mental health diagnosis and may not be attuned to the high needs of the infant.