When studying for your masters in education, you probably took classes or completed outside coursework on child abuse. However, just like with any aspect of teaching, facing the problem is far different than reading about it.
When you first suspect that child abuse has occurred to one of your students, your immediate response may be to wonder how you can know for sure. Remember this: your task is to take note of why you suspect child abuse, and then report it to the proper authorities. They will investigate further and make the appropriate determinations.
What are the signs of child abuse?
There are no “typical” signs of child abuse; however, there are enough definitive ones that point to the possibility that child abuse has occurred or is occurring. Your online masters in education courses may have listed some or all of the ones included, or you may have learned of others that are not mentioned through other sources. For this reason, the list below should not be considered all-inclusive.
It should also be mentioned that child abuse can take the form of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. In some instances, all three forms may be present. Signs of each type of abuse are listed separately; when necessary, those signs that can appear in more than one category will be noted.
Signs of physical child abuse can include:
- Frequent or re-occurring injuries for which the child has no logical explanation. These can include:
- New bruises or marks on the same areas where older ones are still healing
- Coming in from weekends or holidays with fresh injuries that weren’t apparent when the child left school previously
- Lack of medical attention for injuries or other health problems that were brought to the parents’ attention (this can also be a sign of emotional abuse.)
- Reluctance to change clothes in front of others (such as in gym class or for sports activities)
- Expressions of fear, especially when the child hears raised voices or sees physical contact that may be interpreted (sometimes mistakenly) as physical punishment.
- This can include children engaging in “horseplay” such as pushing, punching or kicking. Other children and adults may be able to see it for just that, but again an abused child may interpret this as true physical violence.
- Inappropriate dress for weather conditions, such as long pants and long-sleeved shirts during warm weather. This can be a sign of both physical and emotional abuse.
- Showing signs of extreme anger or extreme passivity
- Verbal statements about his negative feelings towards parents
- Cold or indifferent behavior towards parents when they are together
Signs of emotional abuse can include:
How to tell the difference between abuse and neglect
Oftentimes, there can be child abuse without neglect; other times, there may be indications of child neglect but no reason to suspect physical or other child abuse. Sometimes, as with the case of the signs of abuse having the propensity to overlap, so too can neglect and abuse be present at the same time.
Signs of child neglect include:
- Inadequate protection from cold or rainy weather
- Dirty or unkempt appearance
- Displays signs of not being fed properly.
- Some of the psychological signs of this can include:
- Always asking for extra snacks or treats
- Trying to get others to give up their food
- Stealing food
- Physical signs of this can include
- Being extremely underweight for child’s age
- Poor performance in school (this can also be a sign of emotional abuse)
- Chronic fatigue
- Lack of strength and stamina
- Change in mood/temper
Steps to Take
As soon as you suspect that child abuse or neglect is occurring, immediately take the following steps:
- Document, document, document. Include all of the following, as well as anything else you think may be important:
- What you have seen (give complete descriptions of injuries, signs of neglect, and other things.)
- What you have heard both from the child and from others (state as much of it verbatim; that is, word-for-word, as you can
Your masters in education online degree most likely taught you good note-taking techniques. Put them to use.
- Report your findings to the proper authorities.
- The school or educational facility at which you work will probably have set guidelines and regulations for reporting child abuse or neglect that include whom to report the incidents, which forms to complete, and other things.
- If there are no guidelines or regulations, report it to a guidance counselor, assistant principal, or the principal.
- Document your reporting process. Make note of with whom you spoke, where the reporting took place (include the office or room as well as the school’s name itself, when the incident was reported (include date and time).
- Keep a copy of all documentization used during the reporting process in case further action is needed.