Child Abuse and Neglect Facts

The problem of child abuse and neglect is being given increased attention in communities across the country.

Abuse and neglect of children affects many people in the community. The abused or neglected child is the primary victim. Such maltreatment may lead to a variety of problems and disorders that may follow the child into adulthood.

The abusive or neglectful parents or caretakers suffer as well. Most of them do not want to hurt children but may be repeating the abusive behavior they themselves experienced as children. Other family members, especially brothers and sisters of abused children, may exhibit emotional and behavioral problems as well, even though they themselves are not the primary targets of abuse.

Finally, communities as a whole suffer. As abusive and neglectful acts touch lives in ever-widening circles, the potential for harm to the "fabric" of the community increases.

How to recognize abuse and neglect...

The most commonly recognized types of abuse and neglect are physical abuse, physical neglect, emotional abuse, emotional neglect and sexual abuse or exploitation. Signs of abuse and neglect include:

  • A child with repeated injuries such as bruises, welts, or burns
  • A child who is withdrawn, angry, depressed, aggressive
  • A child who exhibits extremes in behavior, such as being excessively aggressive or being overly compliant; being afraid to go with a caretaker or clinging and not wanting to separate
  • A child who is inadequately dressed for the weather, is malnourished, physically dirty, tired, or unsupervised; or is not receiving needed medical treatment
  • A child who shows signs of or reports sexual abuse or has a sexually transmitted disease.

Who reports?

Any citizen may report; however, those who are "mandated reporters" can be fined for failure to report suspected abuse or neglect to the Child Protective Services (CPS) Hotline. Mandated reporters include:

  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Staff in private or public hospitals or institutions providing care and treatment of children
  • Teachers and employees in public or private schools (including nursery schools, and day care centers)
  • Babysitters employed on a regular basis
  • Mental health professionals
  • Social workers
  • Probation officers
  • Law enforcement officers.


Any identifying information about the person reporting will remain confidential unless otherwise ordered by the court. Persons reporting in good faith are, by law, immune from civil or criminal liability.

When a complaint is made...

  • A Child Protective Services social worker will determine if the complaint should be investigated.
  • If the situation warrants an investigation, this must be initiated within 24 hours of the complaint; certain cases immediately.
  • The CPS worker will interview the child, the non-abusive parent/caretaker and the alleged abuser and others having pertinent information.

The CPS worker has the legal authority to...

  • Talk to the child alone without parental consent (state policy mandates that schools cooperate with the investigation).
  • Take photographs or arrange for X-rays, without parental consent, for the purpose of documenting injuries, bruises, or cuts.
  • Take the child for medical attention if the parents or other caretaker(s) refuse to do so; however, if this becomes necessary, the Department of Family Services must take custody of the child.
  • Take immediate emergency custody of a child.

What can Child Protective Services do?

Child Protective Services recognizes that children need to be with their own parents. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to place a child who has been abused in alternate care. But more often than not, we work to change the family system through interventions such as counseling, parenting programs, child care and support from volunteers who relate well to the family to enable a child to remain safely in his or her own home. Parents and children can receive support and guidance from their CPS social worker, from programs that use specially-trained volunteers, and from public and private resources.

What can you do?

  • Learn to recognize the warning signals and indicators of child abuse and neglect.
  • If you suspect abuse or neglect, contact the Child Protective Services Hotline at 703-324-7400.
  • Encourage schools to provide classes in parenting education for students and parents.
  • Request a speaker or in-service training through the Child Protective Services Hotline – 703-324-7400.
  • Learn about becoming a foster parent through the Department of Family Services – 703-324-7639.
  • Provide friendship and guidance to parents and children who need your help by volunteering for programs such a BeFriend-A-Child. For more information, call 703-324-7874.
  • Join SCANStop Child Abuse Now — the local chapter of the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect – 703-820-9001.
  • Start or join community efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect, especially during April, Child Abuse Prevention Month.
  • If you see a parent abusing a child in public, approach and say something like, "Looks like you're having a rough day. Is there anything I can do to help?"
  • If you are in a store and a child is in danger, offer assistance. For example, if the child has been left unattended in a cart, stand by the child until the parent returns.
  • If you are concerned about the physical safety of the child, alert the store manager.

Questions about leaving children home alone?


To make a report of suspected child abuse or neglect, call
Fairfax County Department of Family Services
Child Protective Services Hotline
TTY 703-222-9452

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Fairfax County Department of Family Services
[ 12011 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, VA 22035 ]
[ 703-324-7500 ]

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