Here are possible characteristics of abusive and neglectful caregivers.

These characteristics have a greater likelihood of existing in situations where a child is suspected of being abused or maltreated, but may not be indicative of every situation. They should be seen as clues or red flags in the deliberation of suspected cases of abuse or maltreatment. The more characteristics that exist in the situation you are evaluating, the greater the likelihood that abuse or maltreatment may have taken place. If there are only one or two characteristics that exist in the situation, further careful assessment may be warranted.

Caretaker/Parent Factors

  • Past history of having been abused or neglected themselves
  • Lack of friendships or emotional support
  • Community isolation
  • Inability to ask for and receive necessary help and support
  • Avoidance of social contact, even with family
  • Lack of trust of people
  • Lack of self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness
  • Relationship problems of caretaker, including partner abuse
  • Physical or mental health problems, irrational behavior
  • Life crises such as financial problems, unemployment, low wages, homelessness
  • Alcohol/substance abuse
  • Adolescent stage of development
  • Seem unconcerned about the child
  • Takes an unusual amount of time to obtain medical care for the child
  • Gives different explanations for the same injury
  • Disciplines the child too harshly considering their age or what they did wrong
  • Tries to conceal the child’s injury, or takes the child to a different doctor or hospital for each injury
  • Has poor impulse control
  • Has a disorganized, upsetting home life
  • Is apathetic, and feels nothing will change
  • Has a long-term chronic illness or limited intellectual capacity
  • Treats children in the family unequally, or inconsistently
  • May seem not to care about the child’s problems, or may be very protective or jealous of the child
  • Blames or belittles the child, appears to be cold or rejecting
  • Unrealistic expectations of child to meet caretaker’s emotional needs
  • Absence of nurturing child-rearing skills
  • Violent/corporal punishment methods of discipline accepted within the caretaker’s culture of child-rearing
  • Acceptance of violence as normal means of personal interaction
  • Delay or failure in seeking health care for child’s regular immunizations, illness or injury
  • Views child as bad, evil, different, etc.

Adapted from: Identifying and Reporting Child Abuse and Maltreatment/Neglect: Mandated Reporter Trainer’s Resource Guide. New York State Office of Children and Family Services: CDHS/Research Foundation of SUNY/BSC (2009).

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