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Know the Signs

The Big Picture

To help a child who experiences abuse and neglect, a person should have a general understanding of the signs and symptoms. Sometimes you might notice signs in children, sometimes in the parents, and sometimes in family relationships in general. In the navigation bar to the right, you can explore definitions, signs, and symptoms of the different types of maltreatment.

It is important to remember that the presence of one sign or symptom does not mean abuse or neglect is occurring in a family. Educating yourself about types of harm and typical signs of abuse and neglect will help you identify what to report. Remember that if you do suspect a child is being harmed, reporting is not an accusation but a request for Office of Children's Services to follow up and look into the situation.

What is Abuse and Neglect?

In Alaska, the definitions of child abuse and neglect are aligned with federal legislation that lays the groundwork for our state laws. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA, 42 U.S.C. § 5101) provides the federal minimum definition of child abuse and neglect:

‘‘the term ‘child abuse and neglect’ means, at a minimum, any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm”

While there are multiple state civil and criminal statutes as well as additional federal laws that further define child abuse and neglect from a legal perspective, it is not the reporter’s responsibility to try to interpret state or federal law. This training provides definitions in layman’s terms for abuse and neglect which will serve as a better guide for most mandatory reporters in helping to identify child maltreatment. Most important to remember is that when in doubt it is your duty to report. It is the job of OCS to make the determination of whether abuse has occurred.

There are the four major types of abuse and neglect:

  • Physical Abuse
  • Neglect
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Mental Injury

When Children Don’t Disclose

We must understand that children often find it very difficult, if not impossible, to discuss abuse and neglect. It is the responsibility of adults to understand abuse, recognize the signs, and make it possible for children to disclose abuse.

 When children don't disclose

Video: When Children Don't Disclose

The young woman in this video, who is a former victim of abuse, talks about why a child may not disclose and why it is so very important that everyone who is around a child pays close attention to the signs of abuse.

How do I Respond

Children may only tell about abuse after they feel safe. In young children, it is more likely to be an accidental disclosure where the child "blurts" something out or the child's behaviors raise concerns. In older children, there is usually a purposeful decision to tell. This may be out of anger, or maybe a feeling of protection for another sibling or friend. Older children often tell their friends about abuse first.

Whatever way you learn about a child's abuse, it is important to know how to respond.


  • Believe the Child
  • Report
  • Empower
  • Follow Up
  • Support

How to Help a Child

Things You Can Do to Help a Child Talk

Although a child trusts us enough to tell about abuse and has the courage to want it to change, it is stressful for the child to tell us. Remember — it is NOT your job to investigate the abuse, to interview the child, or to determine the truthfulness of what the child has told you. At the same time there are some things you can do to help a child feel safe disclosing so you can make a report that is helpful to them.

 How do I respond?

Video: How do I respond?

In this short video an Office of Children's Services Social Worker talks about how to respond when a child chooses to disclose to you.

More Ideas for Helping a Child

  • Regardless of how shocking a child's statements might be, maintain your openness and composure. Never appear shocked at what the child says.
  • Be careful not to express a negative or discrediting attitude toward a child's parents.
  • Do not assure a child that he/she will not have to leave home.
  • Do not share with the child (or the child’s parents/caregivers) that you plan to make a report until you’ve had a chance to talk with OCS and/or law enforcement. In some situations sharing that information can jeopardize both the case and the child’s safety.

Avoid making promises to the child (for example, "It will be all better!")

Always remember: You are responsible for reporting, OCS and law enforcement are responsible for investigating. Establishing and investigating abuse and neglect is the responsibility of the Office of Children's Services and/or the law enforcement agency in your area. You need only have a reason to suspect that abuse or neglect has occurred to report. Your role will be to serve the child as a supportive resource throughout any investigation that might occur.

How to Support the Child

 How to Support the Child

Video: How to Support the Child

In this video an OCS worker discusses the importance of supporting the child victim after the child has disclosed regarding abuse. It is important to believe and be supportive. The best way to support a child who has disclosed abuse is to encourage their participation in normal healthy activities, to listen if the child feels the need to talk, and to be there for the child.

Left Arrow Who Must Report | Physical Abuse Right Arrow