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 Apr 6, 2021 at 11:38 AM

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Prevention and Training

The safety and well-being of children is a community responsibility. To learn more about child abuse prevention and CPS services, CPS offers outreach and training year round to organizations and civic groups. Learn more.

See the Prevention Resource Guide 2021-2022 published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


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

Any concerned resident who suspects that a child is abused or neglected should call the City of Alexandria CPS Hotline at 703.746.5800, or the Virginia Hot Line at 1.800.552.7096. 

In the City of Alexandria, almost 30% of calls reporting suspected child abuse or neglect to the CPS Hotline come from schools and youth programs. During this time of physical and social separation, when the natural supports of teachers, counselors, and recreational staff are not available, youth may not know who to turn to for help. The City of Alexandria, with the Virginia Department of Social Services, wants youth, their parents, and others who care for them, to know there are people available to listen. If you or someone you know is not in a physically or emotionally safe situation, please call one of our hotlines and talk with someone who can help you.  

How to Report
Please provide as much information as possible about your concerns and the identity of the child. See below for additional information about calling the CPS Hotline.

Child Protective Services (CPS) is established by the Code of Virginia (63.2-1503) to receive and respond to concerns of abuse or neglect of children.

Signs of Potential Abuse or Neglect

One step in helping abused or neglected children is to recognize the warning signs. View or download Raise Your Voice to Help Neighbors at Risk of Abuse, a flyer that helps identify signs of abuse in children and adults, in EnglishSpanishAmharic or Arabic and share with your network. 

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.
  • Uses harsh physical discipline.

It may be physical neglect when a child:

  • Is home alone or with siblings beyond their ability to safely care for themselves.  See Supervision Guidelines.
  • Says that no one is home to care for them.
  • Often seems hungry and asks for or steals food or money from neighbors or classmates.
  • Lacks needed medical or dental care. 
  • 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 depressed or not able to care for their child's needs.
  • Consistently fails to keep important appointments.
  • Leaves children home alone and beyond their ability to safely care for themselves.  See Supervision Guidelines.

It may be emotional abuse or neglect when the child:

  • Displays self-destructive behavior, like self cutting or burning. 
  • Becomes overly compliant and passive, or extremely demanding and aggressive.
  • Acts inappropriately adult-like (such as parenting other children) or inappropriately infantile (such as frequent rocking or head banging). 
  • Describes domestic violence between parents or caregivers at home. 

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. 
  • Exposes their child to domestic violence.

It may be sexual abuse when the child:

  • 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:

  • Lacks social and emotional contacts outside the family.
  • Isolates a child from protective adults and activities. 

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. Calls after regular hours are automatically forwarded to the Virginia State Hotline.

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. 

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 CPS social worker assess each situation more effectively. By giving your name and contact information, it also allows the social worker to follow up with you if there are further questions, and to provide you with closure notification of CPS involvement. The name of the person making the report is kept confidential, and will be known only if later court action finds that the report was made with malicious intent. 

What happens after I report my suspicions?

CPS will determine whether the information is valid for further assessment or investigation. You will be notified at the end of the call, or soon after, whether CPS validates the report and assigns a worker to assess the family situation. CPS has up to 60 days to complete an investigation or assessment and decide if further services are necessary to maintain child safety and prevent risk of maltreatment. 

Will I be told the outcome?

If you provide your mailing address, a letter notifying you that CPS has ended their initial assessment or investigation will be mailed. Details about the investigation and family are kept confidential and will not be included in the letter. 

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

Child Supervision Guidelines 

Below, and included in brochure format, are the updated supervision guidelines for parents and caretakers to consider before leaving a child alone. These guidelines have been established and agreed upon by child protective service agencies across northern Virginia. 

Brochure: Home Alone? Child Supervision Guidelines
Folleto:  ¿Solo en casa? Guías de supervisión infantil

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?