To Report Child Abuse

Nebraska: 1 (800) 652-1999
Iowa: 1 (800) 362-2178

To Contact Us

(402) 595-1326
Hours: Mon-Fri: 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
After hours by appointment only

Signs of Abuse

Don’t expect obvious signs when a child is being abused. Signs are often there, but you have to know what you’re looking for – signs can be physical, emotional or behavioral.

There are many misconceptions about child abuse.

Here are some facts that we hope will help you understand the issue of child abuse and the prevalence of child abuse in the United States, Nebraska and Iowa.

In Nebraska, all citizens are mandated reporters. We all have the responsibility to report when we suspect a child is being abused. To make a report, call the Nebraska Health and Human Services Child Abuse Reporting Hotline at 1-800-652-1999.

Iowa law defines classes of people who must report child abuse within 24 hours when they reasonably believe a child has suffered abuse. These mandatory reporters are professionals who have frequent contact with children, generally those who work in health, mental health, education, law enforcement, child care, and social work. To make a report, call the Iowa Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-362-2178.

Signs of Possible Neglect

  • Seem inadequately  dressed for the weather (e.g., shorts and sandals in freezing temperatures)
  • Appear excessively listless and tired (due to no routine or structure around bedtime)
  • Report caring for younger siblings (when they themselves are underage or are developmentally not ready to do so)
  • Demonstrate poor hygiene or smell of urine or feces
  • Seem unusually small or thin or have a distended stomach (indicative of malnutrition)
  • Have unattended medical or dental problems, such as infected sores or badly decayed/abscessed teeth
  • Appear withdrawn
  • Crave unusual amounts of attention, even in eliciting negative responses in order to obtain it

Signs of Possible Physical Abuse

  • Extensive bruises, especially in area of the body that are not normally vulnerable (e.g., behind ears)
  • Bruises of different colors (which may indicate various stages of healing)
  • Frequent bruises around the head or face, the abdomen or midway between the wrist and elbow
  • Bruises in specific shapes, such as handprints, hangar marks, or belt buckles
  • Marks that indicate hard blows from an object, such as an electrical cord or other whip-like object that makes a burn around the body
  • Bruises on multiple parts of the body (which may indicate blows from different directions)
  • Unexplained internal bleeding that might be observed as discoloration under the skin or blood filled lumps
  • Extreme sensitivity to pain or complaints of soreness and stiffness or awkward movements as if caused by pain
  • Adult-sized, human bite marks
  • Burns, especially those that appear to be from objects such as cigarettes, irons, etc.
  • Injuries for which the explanation given is inadequate.

Signs of Possible Sexual Abuse

  • Bruising in the inner thigh or genital area
  • Have difficulty walking or sitting
  • Complaints of genital or anal itching, pain, or bleeding
  • Frequently vomiting
  • Becomes pregnant at a young age
  • Have a sexually transmitted infection
  • Exceptionally secretive
  • Advanced sexual knowledge, more than what is age appropriate
  • Extreme compliance of withdrawal
  • Overly aggressive
  • Inordinate fear of males or females
  • Seductive behavior
  • Sleep problems; nightmares
  • Crying without provocation
  • Sudden onsets of wetting or soiling in their pants or bed
  • Suicidal ideation or gestures
  • Frequently running away
  • Cruelty to animals, especially pets
  • Firesetting behaviors beyond curiosity
  • Self-mutilation; cutting, burning, scratching themselves

Risk Factors for Maltreatment

  • Born prematurely, low birth weight
  • Perceived as unusual  or different in terms of appearance or temperament
  • Unhealthy, congenital abnormalities
  • Has a physical/emotional/developmental disability
  • Lives in poverty
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Presence of crime/violence
  • Single parent homes
  • Parents with a lack of education
  • Domestic violence
  • Mental illness of the caregiver

Behavioral Clues of Child Maltreatment

  • Aggressive, oppositional, defiant
  • Coming to school early and staying late to avoid going home
  • Extreme risk taking behaviors, fearlessness
  • Described as “accident-prone”
  • Low achieving
  • Cheat, steal, or lie (may be related to high expectations at home)
  • Regressive or immature behavior
  • Shrinks away from physical contact

Signs of Possible Emotional Abuse

  • Extremes in behavior (maniacally happy or very depressed)
  • Withdrawn
  • Self-destructive, self-mutilating
  • Destructive behavior
  • Cruelty to others, including animals
  • Rocking, thumb-sucking that is developmentally inappropriate, or head-banging
  • Enuresis; wetting or soiling one’s self at an age that is developmentally inappropriate
  • Substance abuse
  • Physical manifestations, such as frequent stomachaches or headaches or unexplained weight gain or loss

Child / Parent / Family Dynamics

Child abuse occurs in family systems, so when looking for signs of child abuse, do not only hone in on the child. The parent and family dynamics may hold just as many, if not more signs than seen in the child alone. Such as:

  • Parents who have unrealistic expectations of physical or academic performance for a child
  • Parents who were abused or neglected as children
  • Parents who look to their child to meet their own personal/emotional needs
  • Families blaming one child for all of their problems
  • Insistence of using physical discipline in school
  • Families who rarely interact with each other, seem cold and distant

For this shadowing experience, I was able to shadow Nick Zadina, a training specialist at Project Harmony. The experience was by far one of my favorites. This experience helped sculpt my career path in that it made me realize there are so many options out there.

- UNMC High School Alliance Program – Student Journal

We wish to thank you for your hospitality and the wonderful program and tour of Project Harmony. We are so fortunate to have an organization acting on the behalf of our children with such outstanding enthusiasm and dedication.

- Rotary Club of Omaha Northwest

Thank you so much for coming to Children’s and speaking to our staff. Your talk on “Understanding Poverty” was excellent, and I could see “wheels turning” as some staff members commented on simple ways their interactions might make a difference for children and parents.

- Patty Carrell, CMSW

I have felt that my input has been highly valued and respected when it comes to doing my job, and that is something that speaks volumes to the working environment here at Project Harmony.

- Brenda Jewell

We began collaborating with the Project Harmony through their Connections program last year, and we’ve continued the partnership. Connections represents an extremely valuable partnership and an opportunity to provide our students with a bridge to mental health services.

- Papillion La Vista Community Schools

Our experience and partnership with Project Harmony/Connections has been fantastic! It is a comfort knowing we have a partner who can connect our students and families with the appropriate resources in times of crisis or trauma.

- Millard Public Schools

This shadowing experience actually made me very interested in this field. One aspect that helped me narrow my choice of careers is the environment that Project Harmony had. It was very upbeat, cheerful and bright.

- UNMC High School Alliance Program – Student Journal

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Project Harmony for planning and delivering professional development to our 70 counselors, social workers and community counselors. We feel fortunate to have such a valuable resource in our community to partner with.

- Millard Public Schools

You have a top rate program – really national quality. I’m totally impressed.

- Lisa Fontes

At our last D2 Center Board meeting, I was describing the training and professional development we provide for our staff. At the top of the list was Project Harmony. Please know that you are providing an invaluable service to nonprofits in our community.

- Greg Emmel

Congratulations on the great media coverage of your Stewards class at Project Harmony on WOWT. You did a great job articulating the importance of prevention, and Susan was amazing too. Thank you so much for your partnership and all the important work you are doing.

- Cindy McElhinney – Darkness to Light

Just wanted to know that you made a difference in my life, and I will be using that momentum to make a difference in the lives of others. You are truly a rock star and a role model for me. Thank you for a new life I’m getting the chance to live.

- Anonymous

Many children through my caseload have received a backpack generously donated to the Project Harmony Triage Center. I have witnessed many faces light up when given the opportunity to pick out a new backpack, and I am very grateful for the generosity of the Junior League.

- DHHS – Children & Family Services

I have never felt as valued at other organizations like I do at Project Harmony. I really feel that the culture of a working environment is incredibly important. If an employee feels respected, valued and supported, that person will likely give more to fulfill the mission.

- Javier Castellote

Nick and Javier were great teachers and role players. It gave us an opportunity to see how someone in that situation would have reacted to our questions. They did a great job at showing us the difference between sympathy and empathy.

- Anonymous

I was able to shadow Mr. Nick Zadina. He was in charge of dealing with abused kids and help them. I am thankful to know all the information I learned during shadowing because it was eye opening.

- UNMC High School Alliance Program – Student Journal

The experience at Project Harmony was a deepening reminder of empathy that will be vital in my career as a nurse. I felt my perspective was widened on how others think, especially when discussing the assumptions we make.

- Anonymous

I didn’t know how many people work at Project Harmony, so I drew a lot to show how much Project Harmony means to me!

- Project Harmony Client

As difficult as a removal is on a child, the backpack they receive at Project Harmony provides a sense of belonging and hope. It truly is amazing something that seems so simple can change the perspective and shine light on these children.

- DHHS – Children & Family Services

Great leadership for a wonderful cause with outstanding long-term goals. Keep on doing all the good you do.

- Bill & Jean O’Conner

Project Harmony is the reason I started my journey in college. I just finished my associates and I'm going for my bachelors now in Child Protection and Juvenile Justice. Y'all helped my daughter back in early 2013 and I knew what I wanted to do with my life — help children.

- LaLa Ann

A young lady who works in our field told me that she loved what we do here at Project Harmony — she had been to Project Harmony seven years ago for a forensic interview. She said her positive experience was the biggest reason she is doing the work that she is today.

- Trainee

I found out that my foster son is going to have a forensic interview here at Project Harmony soon. It’s been interesting being on the other side of things and feeling so reassured that the child I care so deeply about is in very caring and capable hands.

- Jessica Kroeker

Nick demonstrated how one person could impact a huge group of student nurses by just attending his presentation. He gave me the reason, the courage to act, and the knowledge how to save victims that I will face in my future nursing career.

- Anonymous

I recently attended the Testifying Training course. Since that class I have been subpoenaed three times, and I had to testify at each hearing. Without this class I would have been less than prepared and too nervous to be credible. Thank you so much!

- Jenny Lewis

You are part of the solution.

The cycle of abuse does not have to continue, but we can’t end it alone. Anyone has the power to be someone who makes our community a safe place for all children.

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