Signs of abuse can be difficult to spot in children, especially child neglect and emotional abuse. Physical abuse signs are clearer, but it can still be challenging for professionals with safeguarding responsibilities, such as teachers, to follow up on indicators of abuse.
The relationship between teachers and parents or guardians relies heavily on mutual trust, so it can be particularly difficult for teachers to bring up the subject with caregivers.
However, at the same time, it is important for teachers to remember that parents only present one version of themselves to their child's school.
Indeed, Liz Yardley, criminology lecturer at Birmingham City University, told the Guardian: "Doing something [about a concern] calls into question the very notion we have of what parents are.
"We have a very idealistic notion of the family and to acknowledge that this is not true can be painful."
With this in mind, support must be available to teachers when they are reporting signs and symptoms of physical abuse, as well as emotional abuse and child neglect. The NSPCC has advice for this on its website, but the following information covers signs to look out for.
Many children are accident-prone, and cuts and bruises can simply be symptoms of boisterous play, which is why it can be hard for teachers to pinpoint signs of physical abuse.
However, when injuries are common or follow a pattern, and a child appears to have overall poor health, teachers have a duty as safeguarding professionals to act. These common indicators of abuse could include regular injuries after weekends or holidays, multiple injuries at a time, and suspicious fractures.
There may be behavioural indicators of abuse too, such as a child being uncomfortable undressing for PE in front of others, being unable to explain their injuries, or acting withdrawn or aggressive.
Neglect can often develop into more serious types of child abuse, so teachers need to be able to spot the signs. Again, this can be difficult, as children can be overweight or underweight due to no fault of their parents or guardians.
Teachers can look for signs of health concerns or medical problems going seemingly unattended for long periods, as well as signs of poor hygiene, regularly turning up to school hungry, body odour, an unkempt appearance, inappropriate clothing or a general lack of supervision.
Concerns over sexual abuse must be immediately reported to protect the child from further abuse.
Physical signs of sexual abuse can include:
● Regular bladder infections or STDs
● Bruising, swelling, itching, bleeding or pain in the genital or anal region
● Pregnancy in pre-teen girls
● Blood in the child's underwear
Meanwhile, behavioural signs of sexual abuse may include:
● The child displaying signs of depression
● Suicidal feelings, or a regression to more childlike behaviour
● A child acting in a promiscuous manner
● The child talking about sex or being touched
● Refusing to undress during a PE session
It is vital that teachers, social workers and other professionals with a safeguarding role comply with the government's latest guidance for schools in this area.At Virtual College, we have a range of e-learning resources available for professionals who want to improve their safeguarding knowledge and learn how to protect vulnerable children. Find out more here.