Signs of Child Abuse

Woman holds child's hand while walking

The Department of Defense and the Family Advocacy Program are committed to promoting the well-being of children and families by addressing and preventing child abuse and neglect.

An estimated 1 in 4 children have experienced abuse or neglect at some point in their lives. This abuse most often occurs at home. It is typically committed by those well known to the child – parents, relatives, babysitters and family friends.

The good news is that child abuse and neglect can be prevented. You can do your part to keep military children safe and secure by:

What is child abuse and neglect?

The DOD defines child abuse and neglect as:

  • Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker that results in death, serious physical injury, emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation
  • An act or failure to act that presents an imminent risk of serious harm

Child abuse generally falls into one of these categories:

  • Neglect includes the failure to provide for a child’s basic physical, emotional, medical or educational needs. For example, if a parent or caregiver withholds food from their child as a punishment for misbehaving, it is neglect.
  • Physical abuse includes any behavior that involves the use of force to harm a child, such as punching, kicking, biting, shaking, throwing, stabbing, choking or burning.
  • Sexual abuse involves any contact with a child of a sexual nature. This includes physical touch involving a sexual body part belonging to the child or the caregiver. It also includes forcing a child to look at a caregiver’s sexual body parts or intentionally exposing them to explicitly sexual material. It is important to remember that children cannot legally consent to any sexual activity.
  • Emotional abuse includes a pattern of verbal and nonverbal behaviors that have a negative effect on the child’s psychological well-being. These include constant criticism, threats, humiliation and rejection. It can also include a parent or caregiver intentionally withholding affection.

Know the risk factors associated with child abuse and neglect

Experts have identified common factors that may increase the risk for child abuse or neglect occurring.

At the individual level, parents who have a history of adverse childhood experiences, including experiencing abuse or neglect, may be more likely to similarly mistreat their own children. This is because abuse is often a learned behavior, and our earliest experiences can have a big impact on our future relationships.

Other factors that may increase the risk of parents abusing or neglecting their children are a lack of knowledge of child development and the absence of a support system. Parents who are younger, and perhaps less prepared to become parents, may need additional support to build healthy and nurturing relationships with their children.

Also, parents who struggle with alcohol and other drug addictions are at risk of exposing their children to dangerous substances and may be less likely to provide for their safety.

At the family level, parents who are under particular stress, such as financial insecurity, may be at a higher risk of neglecting their children. Times of uncertainty or crisis can lead to higher risk. For example, adults who do not have effective coping skills may take out their anxiety on their children or partner by yelling, screaming or hitting. Parents with a history of relationship violence, with one parent abusing the other, may be at risk for exposing their children to domestic abuse, which can have a long-term impact on their social and emotional development.

At the community level, the level of risk increases if community members in general are unaware of the signs of abuse or don’t know who to call if they suspect abuse.

Know the signs of child abuse and neglect

A child who is being abused or neglected may feel guilty, ashamed or confused. They may be afraid to tell someone, especially if the person harming them is a parent, sibling, other relative or a family friend. Learn the indicators of child abuse and neglect and how to teach your child about healthy body boundaries.

Children who seem afraid of their parents, older youth, an adult caregiver or a family friend may be experiencing abuse or neglect. Red flags may include when a child:

  • Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance
  • Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention
  • Has learning difficulties, or trouble focusing, that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes
  • Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen
  • Seems to always lack adult supervision
  • Has unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones or black eyes
  • Has fading bruises or other marks noticeable following an absence from school
  • Seems frightened of their parent or caregiver and protests or cries when it is time to go home from a playdate, school or other activity
  • Is abusive toward pets or other animals

How you can help

Reporting child abuse only takes a minute, but it also takes courage and a commitment to keeping children healthy and safe. If you’re concerned about a child or family, but aren’t sure whether abuse is occurring, err on the side of safety.

Reporting provides the opportunity to prevent or stop abuse and enables the family to get the help they need. Everyone has a moral obligation and, in many cases, a legal responsibility to take action to end child abuse and neglect.

Depending on the situation and your state requirements, you may report child abuse or neglect to one or more of the following organizations:

Strong communities strengthen families. Parents, caregivers and community members can help by being informed, attentive and supportive of children. To learn more about child abuse, read “What is Child Abuse?”

Domestic Abuse: Military Reporting Options

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Safety Alert: Computer use can be monitored and it is impossible to completely clear your browser history. If you are afraid your internet usage is being monitored, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or 800-787-3224 en Español.

Deciding whether to report domestic abuse can be difficult. If you are experiencing abuse in your relationship, it is normal to feel alone, afraid and unsure about asking for help. Knowing your reporting options can help you decide what to do next.

The Department of Defense Family Advocacy Program is committed to supporting service members and their families impacted by domestic abuse. The top priorities of FAP are promoting safety through early identification of unhealthy relationship patterns and reporting abuse.

Keep in Mind:

  • If you are using a shared computer at home, or believe someone is monitoring your internet usage, consider viewing this information from a public setting, such as a library.
  • It is also a good idea to exit from this website and delete it from your browser history after viewing this material.
  • This guide offers tips on how to clear your browser and be safe online.

You have options to decide if, how and when to report domestic abuse in the military, with some exceptions.

Restricted or confidential reporting option

Knowledge is power, and understanding your reporting options for domestic abuse can help you decide how to proceed. With a restricted report, military law enforcement and command will not be notified.

Three groups of professionals have been granted the authority to keep information about domestic abuse confidential under the restricted reporting option:

Making a restricted report means:

  • Law enforcement is not notified.
  • Command is not involved.
  • You have access to the full range of FAP services, including medical care, counseling, and support from a victim advocate. They will work with you to develop a safety plan and identify your next steps, including pursuing options outside the military system.

Victims are also entitled to the protections of privileged communication with a chaplain, but disclosing domestic abuse to the chaplain is not a report and will not connect you to FAP services.

Victim Advocate Locator

Use the Victim Advocacy Search Tool to find the FAP victim advocate closest to you.

Because victim safety is a priority, if you or another person is in immediate risk of serious harm, you cannot use the restricted reporting option. Note: The restricted reporting option does not apply to child abuse cases, which are required by law to be reported to law enforcement and child protective services.

Unrestricted or non-confidential reporting option

With an unrestricted report, a victim of domestic abuse or any concerned person may notify officially designated personnel – chain of command, FAP or military law enforcement – of an incident of abuse.

Making an unrestricted report means:

  • Law enforcement will conduct an investigation of the incident, which will include contacting the alleged offender.
  • Command will be notified and may take administrative action against the alleged offender.
  • You have access to support and protection from command, such as a No Contact Order or a Military Protective Order.
  • You have access to the full range of FAP services, including medical care, counseling, and support from a victim advocate. They will work with you to develop a safety plan and identify your next steps.
  • You have access to legal services.
  • You can receive assistance in applying for transitional compensation, if applicable.

If you are concerned that your spouse or partner may learn that you are seeking help for abuse, contact a FAP victim advocate or your health care provider. They can help you consider if, when and/or how to make an unrestricted report, and assist you in accessing additional services.

You may also decide to seek help outside of the military, where stricter confidentiality rules may apply pursuant to federal, state and local laws and policies. Shelters and agencies in your area can help you consider your options. Contact FAP, where a victim advocate can connect you to civilian, community-based resources or visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website.

If you are experiencing domestic abuse, visit MilitaryINSTALLATIONS to locate the closest Family Advocacy Program, or go to the National Domestic Violence Hotline website or call 800-799-7233. Call 911 if you are in immediate danger of assault or physical injury. If you are on a military installation, call your military law enforcement office.


Child Abuse Prevention Month 2021 Toolkit

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and the Department of Defense is observing this national awareness campaign in partnership with the military services. The resources on this page will help service providers and leaders:

  • Raise awareness of the Family Advocacy Program as a resource to help keep children safe through parent education and support, and as a key partner in reporting child abuse and neglect
  • Increase awareness of parent training resources that help prevent abuse and neglect
  • Provide kids affected by abuse and neglect with resources, safety tips and support
  • Show the community how everyone plays a role to promote a climate in which military youth are safe and healthy

The 2021 campaign, “All In to End Child Abuse,” shows the DOD’s commitment to involving every member of the military community in supporting and protecting military children. Our MilKids are priority one. It’s time to join forces and go #AllInToEndChildAbuse.

The focus of this campaign is to provide resources that educate parents and involve the community, as well as empower military youth to ask for help from a trusted adult if they or a friend aren’t safe at home.

If you are participating in this campaign in your community, refer to and download the Child Abuse Prevention Month 2021 Messaging and Resources Guide: All In to End Child Abuse for more information and messaging.

Shareable social media

Include social media in your campaign efforts to engage your military community. Schedule your own posts during April from the Child Abuse Prevention Month 2021 Social Media Toolkit. Share posts throughout April from the following sites:




Shareable resources

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Combat Human Trafficking — Service Providers and Leaders Toolkit

Trafficking in persons, or human trafficking, is a crime in the United States and globally. The Department of Defense is committed to ending this human rights violation through the Combating Trafficking in Persons program.

Human trafficking includes sex trafficking, forced labor and child soldiering. Though it may seem like these abuses happen only in faraway places, trafficking in persons occurs in the United States as well. The military community can do its part to prevent human trafficking, by:

The first step is learning about Combating Trafficking in Persons. You can explore the resources provided on this page, or visit the program webpage, which provides information, training and resources.


Take the following courses to learn more about human trafficking:

Joint Knowledge Online provides 24/7 access to the online courses above and more web-based training. You can access these on military classified and unclassified networks. Information on JKO is found at for classified and for unclassified access. Direct access to JKO courses is available with a Common Access Card or login and password by going directly to or

You can self-register for a JKO account if you have a CAC. If you don’t have a CAC but have a government or military email account (ending in .mil, .gov,, or, you may obtain a login and password account. If you do not have a CAC or government or military email account, you may request a sponsored account. You can find a link to request the sponsored account on the JKO login page.


Check out the following resources to learn more about human trafficking, including DOD official policy:


If you see or suspect trafficking in persons, report it.

A Safe Space for Relationship Help: The Family Advocacy Program

Young woman thinking

It’s important to know where you can go for safe, judgment-free help when you are feeling unsafe in your relationship. Caring assistance is available through the Family Advocacy Program.

Everyone who experiences domestic abuse has a unique set of circumstances and concerns. Through your installation’s Family Advocacy Program, you can meet with a victim advocate with a deep understanding about the challenges of seeking help for domestic abuse. The role of a victim advocate is to be there for you, to hear you and to offer help and resources.

Find Support Today

Take care of yourself today by talking with a victim advocate, who can show you options you might not be aware of and provide the support you are seeking.

You’ll talk, we’ll listen

When you call (or visit) your Family Advocacy Program to reach a victim advocate, they will welcome you in.

Connect with a victim advocate through your local FAP office. You can decide how much of your story to share in the first conversation.

When you call to speak with a victim advocate, they will want to know if you are in a safe place to talk, and can discuss ways for you to maintain your safety as you seek information and support for your situation.

To help, your advocate will need to know what you’ve experienced. They will listen to you without judgment to find out what you have been through and what you want to happen going forward.

It may be difficult to talk about what you’ve experienced, but it will allow you to voice concerns about your relationship in a safe space. It may help to start by explaining a recent event or by talking about your experiences in a timeline of your relationship.

You have options, and we’ll explain them

The Family Advocacy Program offers victim-centered and victim-led assistance. Translation? Your victim advocate will never pressure you to make a decision you are uncomfortable with. You are in charge of your life and your choices.

You don’t have to be experiencing a crisis to meet with a victim advocate — they can support you regardless of what stage you are at in your relationship. It is never too early to reach out to a victim advocate to ask questions and learn what help is available.

Make sure to tell your advocate what steps you’re ready to take, so they can provide informed support. By understanding your specific situation, your victim advocate will get a better idea of how they can help. They will explain the options you have for reporting and support, after which you can choose what is best for you and your family.

If you decide to report domestic abuse, there are two military reporting options: restricted and unrestricted. Your victim advocate can explain these options in specific detail according to your situation. They can walk you through what each option would look like for you and your family to help you understand the difference and decide what works best for you.

You choose your path, we’ll provide the resources

Victims of domestic abuse come from different family situations and have different experiences and needs. Some may choose to stay in the relationship and try to work things out. Others may choose to leave the relationship. Whatever path you choose, your FAP victim advocate will provide you with the support you need.

Develop a relationship with your victim advocate

Remember that when you connect with your victim advocate, it doesn’t have to be a one-time conversation. They are there as long as you need them to help you find safety, support and healing. Through the Family Advocacy Program, your advocate will work with you to:

  • Promote your safety, well-being and choices
  • Access appropriate treatment for you and other affected family members
  • Identify and build on your and your family’s strengths
  • Increase protective factors to help reduce your risk of future abuse
  • Connect with civilian resources and domestic violence programs

Specifically, your FAP advocate can facilitate connections for you to receive assistance for things like finding immediate lodging, medical care, legal counsel, a job or a new home.

As you continue to meet with your victim advocate, ask them questions you may have forgotten about on your first visit. Let them know your concerns and fears so they can address those, too. Your advocate can work with you to create a plan for your future.

Think of talking to your victim advocate as you would talking to a friend, only a friend who is removed from your situation and who has expertise in your area of need.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, contact the Family Advocacy Program to learn about your options and the resources available to you. You can also contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.

Family Advocacy Program – The Essentials

Child hold cut out paper of family holding hands

The Family Advocacy Program is the Department of Defense program designated to address domestic abuse, child abuse and neglect, and problematic sexual behavior in children and youth. FAP works on every military installation where families are assigned, and supports service members and their spouses, partners and families to prevent abuse, promote victim safety and offer treatment and rehabilitation for healing after a traumatic event has occurred.

Learn more about how FAP works, how to get help and additional options for assistance in the event you, your child or someone you care about is impacted by violence or abuse.

What to Expect When Meeting with a Victim Advocate

The Family Advocacy Program offers a safe space for relationship help.

How the Family Advocacy Program works

Relevant Articles:

Domestic abuse and intimate partner violence

The DOD does not tolerate domestic abuse, and the military community respects, supports and defends victims of abuse. Through FAP, each of the military services is committed to promoting a culture of support for victims, and works with service members and their families to promote the rehabilitation of individuals who use violence in their relationships by teaching them healthy behaviors. Victim safety is always the No. 1 priority.

Understanding the military response to domestic abuse

Getting help for domestic abuse and intimate partner violence

  • Use the victim advocacy search tool to find the FAP victim advocate closest to you
  • Call Military One Source to be connected to your nearest FAP, 800-342-9647
  • Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233, or chat with an advocate at

More about domestic abuse and intimate partner violence:

Relevant Articles:

Child abuse and neglect

The DOD does not tolerate child abuse or neglect, and is dedicated to ensuring the safety of every child in the military community. Through FAP, each of the military services works with service members and their families to promote nurturing, healthy environments for children and youth. When child maltreatment does occur, FAP swiftly responds and works with child protective services, command, parents, and law enforcement to secure the child’s safety.

Identifying and reporting child abuse and neglect

Relevant resources:

Getting help for child abuse and neglect

Problematic sexual behavior in children and youth

A new DOD policy expands the responsibility of its FAP to include addressing problematic sexual behavior in children and youth. This is defined as behavior, initiated by children and youth under the age of 18, that involves using sexual or private body parts in a manner that is developmentally inappropriate or potentially harmful to the individual or the individuals impacted by the behavior.

Identifying and reporting Problematic Sexual Behavior in Children and Youth

Getting help for PSB-CY

Stand up for MilKids: How You Can Make a Difference to a Military Child

Mother reading a book to her younger daughter

In the military community, resilience is a familiar and important concept. Service members and their families are aware of the protective role that strong and healthy relationships play in enhancing readiness. The same is true for military children. Whether you have kids of your own or not, everyone in the military community has a positive role to play in a child’s life. In fact, researchers have discovered that the single most common factor for children who develop resilience is the presence of at least one stable and nurturing parent, caregiver, or other adult.

Just think back to when a teacher, coach, mentor or simply a neighbor gave you a compliment or helpful advice. It can be confidence-boosting. When an adult is present for a child, it helps that child build resilience and be better prepared to overcome adversities they may face, including times of great uncertainty like the COVID-19 pandemic, or a PCS, losing a parent or even abuse or neglect. That is because, as child development experts have discovered, trust and support from a safe adult promotes children’s development of healthy social behaviors and positive coping skills, which are crucial to their long-term emotional and physical wellbeing. That means that when you commit to be a positive example and a steady presence for a military child, your actions literally shape their long-term growth in positive ways. Your relationship provides structure, positive communication and stability.

The Science Behind Resilience

Discover how your actions help children develop resilience.

When a parent serves, children often benefit from the leadership, sacrifice, and strength their parents show by example. At the same time, it is particularly important for children to learn how to adapt, manage stress, and build resilience. You can help foster these skills by understanding the importance of, and committing to, practicing the following strategies for nurturing adult-child interactions.

Ways to Stand up for MilKids

You may be wondering exactly how you can help or stand up for a military child in your community. There are many ways and they don’t all require a major commitment on your part. Here are some ways you can change a child’s life for the better:

  • Offer praise and acknowledgement: Positive words can leave a lasting impression on a child. Saying something simple like “great job” and giving a high five or acknowledging their hard work can act as positive reinforcement. Praise can be given for simple acts, like finishing their homework on time or doing their chores, as well as to honor achievements like acing a test, expressing kindness to someone in need, or competing to their fullest in an athletic event—whether they win or lose.
  • Be an active listener: Children need the adults in their lives to regularly engage with them, check in on them, and even ask their opinions. This is especially important for children who may be struggling with a parent who is away on deployment. By simply asking them questions about their day and genuinely listening lets them know you care, and builds their trust—an especially important foundation that encourages them to seek out help for more serious matters. Be sure to give them your full attention. Put down your cellphone or tablet, make eye contact, and respond to what they are saying in the spirit of their mood. If they are serious, be serious with them. If they are playful, be playful too. Children learn to react and behave based on simple reinforcement by the adults they know. Most of all, believe what they are telling you and let them know you do.
  • Have fun together: Engage your inner child by taking the time to play games, read, or do arts and crafts with the children in your life. Making an effort to engage children in a safe and positive activity tells them that they are special, and worthy of your time. That makes a lasting impression on their self-worth. For ideas about what is available on your installation, use MilitaryINSTALLATIONS to look-up contact information for your local Child Development Center or Morale Welfare and Recreation office and reach out to find out what ideas they have for play time.
  • Learn how to manage your own stress: Children are sponges. They soak up the energy from the adults around them—good and bad. To keep your family strong, it is important to prioritize your own mental wellness and self-care, including learning how to handle stress in healthy ways, so you can shield them as best as possible from negative behaviors or adult worries. There are also ways adults can communicate serious topics with their children and answer tough questions in a calm, reassuring and developmentally appropriate manner.
  • Consider coaching a sports team: If you love sports and enjoy motivating others, then being a coach on your installation could be for you. There are many after-school activities available for adults to volunteer for, and it’s a great opportunity to act as a role model and teach kids how to work as a team.
  • Become a mentor: Mentoring a child is a great way to help build resilience. You can find opportunities to participate in mentorship programs on your installation. Being a positive influence and taking the time to get to know a child can make a big impact.

Positive, and consistent interactions with adults can help to counter child adversity including trauma, abuse or neglect. Children are “works in progress” and the influence of the adults around them is significant. Learn how others in the military community are helping to raise resilient kids or visit THRIVE to develop your own skills in positive adult-child interactions.

If you know a child who has experienced abuse, or has disclosed experiencing a difficult or traumatic life event, consider the following resources:

  • Contact your state’s Child Protective Services or installation Family Advocacy Program immediately if you have reason to suspect a child has experienced abuse or neglect. If you are overseas, your installation Family Advocacy Program will help coordinate with the appropriate overseas child welfare agency.
  • If you believe a child is in immediate risk of harm, call 911 or your international emergency contact number.
  • Read more about how to manage complex situations and how best to support children who have been through a difficult or painful experience. Visit What is Complex Trauma? A Resource Guide for Youth and Those Who Care About Them. If you are a parent or caregiver of a child who has been through a serious traumatic event, you can learn how to help your child heal from trauma.

Pay it forward and be a positive influence for the kids in your military community to help them grow safe and strong. Remember that taking the time to be a nurturing influence isn’t only the right thing to do—it’s also extremely rewarding.