Child Abuse and Neglect

Information on warning signs and reporting abuse and neglect against children.Supervision guidelines for parents and caretakers to consider before leaving a child alone.

Page updated on Sep 4, 2018 at 3:02 PM

Child Protective Services (CPS) is established by the Code of Virginia (63.1-284.6) to receive and respond to concerns of abuse or neglect of children.

Reporting: Any concerned resident who suspects that a child is abused or neglected should call 703.746.5800, or the State Hot Line at 1.800.552.7096.

How to report: You are free to call and discuss concerns anonymously.  Please provide as much information as possible about your concerns and the identity of the child.

If a child is in immediate danger, call 911 for police assistance.

Actions taken by CPS are regulated to provide families with respect and fairness. Decisions and service plans are subject to review by supervisors and by the court. Dispositions of investigations may be appealed by the alleged perpetrator of abuse.

The safety and well-being of children is a community responsibility. To learn more about safety and services, CPS offers a  Speakers Program through which a CPS worker can meet with community organizations and neighborhood groups.

Child Abuse Prevention Trainings

Learn about child abuse prevention trainings offered to the community or schedule a training for your group.

Warning Signs

Identify at Risk Children! One step in helping abused or neglected children is to recognize the warning signs. Report any suspected physical abuse, medical neglect, mental abuse or sexual abuse inflicted upon a child by caretakers.

No one symptom alone proves child abuse, but when they appear often, or in combination with other symptoms, adults need to report them.

It may be physical abuse when you see a child with:

  • Questionable burns, bites, bruises, broken bones, welts or black eyes.
  • Fading bruises or other marks after an absence from school.

It may be physical abuse when the parent or other caregiver:

  • Offers an unconvincing explanation for an injury.
  • Describes the child as "bad" or "stupid."
  • Uses harsh physical discipline.

It may be physical neglect when a child:

  • Steals food or money from classmates, often seems hungry.
  • Lacks medical or dental care. 
  • Says that no one is home to care for him.
  • Lacks proper clothing for the weather.
  • Often appears dirty or tired.

It may be physical neglect when a parent or caregiver:

  • Abuses alcohol or drugs.
  • Appears indifferent to a child's needs.
  • Seems apathetic or depressed.
  • Consistently fails to keep important appointments or to take medicines.

It may be emotional abuse or neglect when the child:

  • Displays self-destructive behavior, like cutting or burning himself. 
  • Becomes overly compliant and passive or extremely demanding and aggressive.
  • Acts inappropriately adultlike (such as parenting other children) or inappropriately infantile (such as frequent rocking or head banging). 
  • Can't make or keep friends.

It may be emotional abuse or neglect when the caregiver:

  • Constantly puts down or blames a child.
  • Rejects the child outright.
  • Makes unreasonable demands on the child without regard to his abilities or developmental level.
  • Gets defensive or refuses to consider help for the child's school problems. 

It may be sexual abuse when the child:

  • Can't walk or sit easily.
  • Has injuries or redness around the genitals.
  • Displays unusual sexual knowledge or behavior, such as being seductive.
  • Withdraws, seems depressed or can't get along with peers.
  • Abuses drugs or alcohol.
  • Has unexplained money or gifts.
  • Expresses thoughts of suicide and low self-worth.

It may be sexual abuse when the parent or caregiver:

  • Was sexually abused as a child himself.
  • Abuses drugs or alcohol.
  • Lacks social and emotional contacts outside his family.
  • Restricts a child's contact with those of the opposite sex.

What can I Do if I Suspect Child Abuse or Neglect?

Call 703.746.5800 - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to report your suspicions.

Don't hesitate. When you report what you've seen or heard, you may help a child to stay safe. If you've noticed the warning signs of abuse and neglect, please call. If you don't report your suspicions, the abuse of a child might continue.

You should have a reasonable suspicion of the abuse, but you don't have to "prove" the abuse or be positive that it occurred. If you report in good faith, you are immune from civil or criminal liability.

Do I have to give my name?

No, but eyewitness accounts about the suspected abuse will help the professional staff handle each situation effectively. Usually the name of the person making the report will be known only if court testimony is involved.

After I report my suspicions, then what happens?

Child Protective Services (CPS) investigates the situation to determine the risks to a child. If a case is "founded" (the abuse is verified), then caseworkers will recommend an action plan to protect the child.

Will I be told what happens?

No. To protect everybody involved, confidentiality rules are strictly enforced. 

Do you suspect child abuse or neglect?
Call 703. 746.5800.  

Home Alone? Updated Child Supervision Guidelines 

Here are the updated Supervision Guidelines for parents and caretakers to consider before leaving a child alone. 
Brochure: Home Alone? Child Supervision Guidelines

There are no laws in Virginia that say when or for how long a child can be left alone. Parents are ultimately responsible for making decisions about their children’s safety.  Every child is different, and must be assessed based on their maturity, skills and comfort level to be home alone.

Is my child ready?  Does he or she…

  • understand instructions and follow important rules?
  • know how to ask for help from friends, neighbors, and police?
  • make good decisions when away from you or other adults?
  • know when to contact you and 911 when needed?
  • feel comfortable and confident about staying home alone?

8 YEARS AND YOUNGER should always be in the care of a responsible person. Children this age should never be left unsupervised in homes, cars, playgrounds or yards.

9-10 YEARS OLD may be ready to be left unsupervised up to 1.5 hours during daylight and early evening hours.

11-12 YEARS OLD may be ready to be left unsupervised up to 3 hours during daylight and early evening hours

13-15 YEARS OLD may be ready to be left unsupervised more than three hours but not overnight.

16 AND OLDER may be ready to be left unsupervised overnight for one to two days, with a plan in place.

Babysitting Guidelines

may provide care of other children for up to three hours with the help of an adult.

13-15 YEARS OLD may babysit infants and children but not overnight.

16 AND OLDER may watch children overnight.

Are my home and family ready? Take these steps:  

1. Write family rules together. Go over emergency contacts and discuss rules for phone and screen use, cooking, taking care of siblings, doing homework, playing outside, having friends over and answering the door.

2. Help your child memorize their address and important telephone numbers.

3. Review and post a list of emergency contacts. Make sure smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working.

4. Have a spare key available. Leave an extra key with a neighbor or trusted adult. Make sure your child knows how to use the door and window locks.

5. Let a trusted neighbor know that your child may be home alone. Designate a safe place where your child can go if he or she feels scared or unsafe.

6. Check in with your child by phone/text regularly.

7. Teach home safety, such as how to use kitchen utensils, appliances, etc., if allowed. Safely store any dangerous items in your home, such as knives, matches, razors, guns, cleaning products and medications

8. Have a plan for emergencies. Discuss what to do when the regular schedule breaks down because of


Family Plan Checklist  

These are some of the most important topics to discuss and answer together.  Practice staying home alone and what to do in these scenarios. 

  • Who should I call in an emergency?
  • When am I allowed to use the phone?
  • What should I do if someone knocks on the door?
  • What should I do if I am locked out?
  • When should I call 911?