The San Diego Sheriff’s Department investigates cases of physical and sexual abuse against children 14 years old and under.  The department works closely with Child Welfare Services and local advocacy groups to protect the children of San Diego County. 

Five children every day in America die from abuse and neglect (source: Every Child Matters). More than half a million children suffer neglect or abuse every year (source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

In the fight against child abuse, knowledge is our strongest weapon. The more you know about it, the more you can do to help those who have already been victimized and to prevent it from happening again. We ask that you take action by spreading awareness and education in your community. Learn about the signs and symptoms abuse or take a pledge to help out parents in your neighborhood.

We want to credit Prevent Child Abuse America and the American Humane Association for the following information.

Step 1: Evaluate Situations for Child Abuse
Sometimes you think you see adults abusing children in public and you don’t know whether you should get involved, or how. Is it your business when you see parents hitting, slapping or otherwise hurting their children? Can you help? The answer is yes.

Although most parents want to be good parents, sometimes factors such as job loss, abuse as a child, substance abuse, mental health concerns, lack of information, lack of parenting skills, or other problems create stress and reduce coping skills. You may be able to diffuse a minor situation by taking the time to calmly offer help and support.

Some hints when talking to adults about the children in their care include:

  • Be helpful and supportive, rather than judgmental and critical.
  • Strike up a conversation with the adult and be empathetic. Say something like “My child did the same thing the other day,” or “Being a parent/grandparent/babysitter can be tough sometimes, can’t it?”
  • Focus attention on the child, saying, “He or she sure has a lot of energy.”
  • Paying attention to the child may divert the parent’s anger.

You should try to help if:

  • A child will be physically hurt.
  • A child’s overall well-being is threatened.
  • You are uncomfortable with a situation involving a child.

If you cannot help by talking to the parent, or the situation is more serious than you can handle, then go on to Step 2: Report Child Abuse.

Step 2: Reporting Child Abuse
Deciding what to do when you suspect child abuse or neglect can be a difficult and confusing process. Remember, you do not need to make a decision about whether abuse or neglect occurred; you are just reporting your concerns. If it is determined that the child may be in immediate danger, a social worker and/or law enforcement officer will make a home visit within a few hours of receiving notification. If there is not an immediate danger, a social worker will investigate within three to ten days of receiving a call if it is determined that the child may be at risk.

A child may be counting on you to make that call. You can take action. Don’t hesitate. You could save a life.

  • If you think that a child is in immediate danger, you should call your local police or 911.
  • Contact the Sheriff’s Department at (858) 565-5200
  • You can remain anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477. You can also submit an anonymous tip online,
  • You can also contact the County’s Child Welfare Services Hotline at (858) 560-2191.
  • Within California, you call toll free 1 (800) 344-6000.

Help Prevent Child Abuse

Child abuse prevention is a community issue. You can make a difference in the life of a child in your community. We should be more aware and involved in helping to protect our children and support families to prevent abuse and neglect before it occurs.

Reach out to Parents

Anything you do to support kids and parents in your family and extended community helps to reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect.

  • Offer to baby-sit so parents can get a break.
  • Arrange a weekly or bi-weekly play date so parents can discuss experiences or problems while the kids play.
  • If you are a grandparent, take a different grandchild each week to relieve some pressure on their parents.
  • If you are a supervisor, encourage flex- and comp-time arrangements so parents can deal with daily child-care and emergencies without the stress of workplace repercussions.
  • If you are a preschool teacher, establish informal monthly meetings for parents to trade tips on parenting and schooling.
  • Canvass members of a club to find people available to provide babysitting for children under 2.
  • Be a good listener for the parents you know. Let them talk about their trials and triumphs.
  • If you are a doctor or work at a doctor’s office, locate and distribute literature on children’s health issues and activities.
  • Work with a PTA to create a parenting class and offer babysitting for parents to help them attend.
  • Offer rides to neighborhood children’s activities.
  • Volunteer as a big brother or club leader to help kids and give parents some free time.

Recognizing Child Abuse:

Child abuse is divided into four types -- physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional maltreatment -- the types are more typically found in combination than alone. A physically abused child for example is often emotionally maltreated as well, and a sexually abused child may be also neglected. Any child at any age may experience any of the types of child abuse.


  • Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance
  • Withdrawal
  • Loss of appetite, eating disorder
  • Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen
  • Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention
  • Has learning problems that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes; a fall in grades in school
  • Lacks adult supervision
  • Is overly compliant, an overachiever, or too responsible
  • Comes to school early, stays late, and does not want to go home
  • Lack of self-confidence; poor relationships with other children

The Parent:

  • Shows little concern for the child, rarely responding to the school’s requests for information, for conferences, or for home visits
  • Denies the existence of -- or blames the child for -- the child’s problems in school or at home
  • Asks the classroom teacher to use harsh physical discipline if the child misbehaves
  • Sees the child entirely bad, worthless, or burdensome
  • Demands perfection or a level of physical or academic performance the child cannot achieve; or looks primarily to the child for care, attention, and satisfaction of emotional needs

Signs of Physical Abuse:

Consider the possibility of physical abuse when the child:

  • Has unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones, or black eyes
  • Has fading bruises or other marks noticeable after an absence from school
  • Seems frightened of the parents and protests or cries when it is time to go home from school
  • Shrinks at the approach of adults
  • Reports injury by a parent or another adult caregiver

Consider the possibility of physical abuse when the parent or other adult caregiver:

  • Offers conflicting, unconvincing, or no explanation for the child’'s injury
  • Describes the child as “evil,” or in some other very negative way
  • Uses harsh physical discipline with the child
  • Has a history of abuse as a child.

Signs of Neglect

Consider the possibility of neglect when the child:

  • Is frequently absent from school
  • Begs or steals food or money from classmates
  • Lacks needed medical or dental care, immunizations, or glasses
  • Is consistently dirty and has severe body odor
  • Lacks sufficient clothing for the weather
  • Abuses alcohol or other drugs
  • States there is no one at home to provide care

Consider the possibility of neglect when the parent or other adult caregiver:

  • Appears to be indifferent to the child
  • Seems apathetic or depressed
  • Behaves irrationally or in a bizarre manner
  • Is abusing alcohol or other drugs

Signs of Sexual Abuse

Consider the possibility of sexual abuse when the child:

  • Has difficulty walking or sitting
  • Suddenly refuses to change for gym or to participate in physical activities
  • Clinginess; fear of being left alone with a particular person or at a particular place
  • Recurrent nightmares; disturbed sleep patterns; sudden fear of the dark
  • Sudden regression to infantile behavior such as bedwetting, thumb sucking, excessive crying
  • Desire to engage in self destructive behavior such as biting oneself, pulling out hair, wrist-cutting
  • May express unusual interest or knowledge about sexual matters, express affection in inappropriate ways for a child his or her age
  • Demonstrates bizarre, sophisticated, or unusual sexual knowledge or behavior
  • Becomes pregnant or contracts a venereal disease, particularly if under age fourteen
  • Runs away
  • Reports sexual abuse by a parent or another adult caregiver

Consider the possibility of sexual abuse when the parent or other adult caregiver:

  • Is unduly protective of the child, severely limits the child’s contact with other children, especially of the opposite sex
  • Is secretive and isolated
  • Describes marital difficulties involving family power struggles or sexual relations

Signs of Emotional Maltreatment

Consider the possibility of emotional maltreatment when the child:

  • Shows extremes in behavior, such as overly compliant or demanding behavior, extreme passivity or aggression
  • Is either inappropriately adult (parenting other children, for example) or inappropriately infantile (frequently rocking or head-banging, for example)
  • Is delayed in physical or emotional development
  • Has attempted suicide
  • Reports a lack of attachment to the parent

Consider the possibility of emotional maltreatment when the parent or other adult caregiver:

  • Constantly blames, belittles, or berates the child
  • Is unconcerned about the child and refuses to consider offers of help for the child’s school problems
  • Overtly rejects the child