Are there red flags to look for in child abuse and neglect?

In a word: Yes. There are indicators of child abuse and neglect that should raise a red flag for you when you see them. But, it’s important to note, these indicators are not proof that child abuse or neglect has occurred.

These indicators fall into two general categories:

  • Physical Indicators: Injuries to a child that are severe, occur frequently or in a pattern may be indicators of child abuse. These could be bruises, cuts, scrapes or broken bones.
  • Behavioral Indicators: The child’s actions, attitudes and emotions can be indicators of child abuse or neglect. But be careful – behavioral indicators can be unreliable as they can result from any number of other factors in the child’s life.

When you see an indicator, it’s up to you to find out more information before calling the Hotline. For tips on how to talk to a child about suspected abuse, click here.  For more information on physical and behavioral indicators, click here.



The process Child Protective Services (CPS) uses once a call to the Hotline has been registered as a report. The purpose of the investigation is to determine if there is evidence that abuse or neglect has occurred., according to the legal definitions in NYS law. If there is no evidence, the case is said to be unfounded and the case is closed. If there is credible evidence, CPS can take further steps to protect the child.

In Depth:

How do I know if my suspicion is reasonable?

To assess whether your suspicion is reasonable, ask yourself the following questions:

Do I have information that suggests that the child has been hurt or harmed (or is at imminent danger of harm) by something the parent (or person legally responsible) did or did not do?

If the same information was given to another experienced mandated reporter (your supervisor or a co-worker) would they suspect child abuse or neglect ?

If the answer is “yes” to either of these questions, you have formed a reasonable suspicion and should call the CPS Child Abuse Hotline. If you are not sure, call for a CPS consultation.

If the answer is “no,” you should work with the family to prevent child abuse or neglect before it happens. Use your resources and tools to help the family.