FOR TEACHERS WHO SUSPECT CHILD ABUSE
Don’t take it personally, but children tend to be eager to get out of school and go home. However, you may have a student with every reason to want to be anywhere but home:
- Child Protective Services agencies in the U. S. investigate over four million reports of child abuse each year. Another eight million cases may go unreported.
- Over a million children in the U. S. suffer regular physical abuse.
- As many as one in four children will be sexually abused at some time.
- At least half a million children are verbally and emotionally abused on a regular basis.
- Over six million children are “passively abused” through neglect of their basic needs. Many of these have drug-addicted parents.
- Four or five children die every day from the effects of child abuse.
Some of these children may be sitting in your classroom, hiding the effects behind pasted-on smiles. How can you tell if a student is an abuse victim?
Symptoms of Child Abuse
A child who has been physically “disciplined” to the point of injury will likely:
- Be ashamed of the injury and try to hide it, often with heavy clothing (kids bruised in ordinary play are typically eager to show off their “battle scars”).
- Respond to direct questions with evasive, implausible, or contradictory explanations.
- Suffer injuries noticeably more frequently than average.
If a child’s basic needs are being neglected, he or she may:
- Be noticeably underweight.
- Dress “cheaper” than can be explained by income bracket or current fashions.
- Not bring food or money for lunch—or bring a lunch that was obviously scrounged.
A child who is being sexually or emotionally abused may never show visible damage, but typically displays the following symptoms:
- Reluctance to get close to others or, alternatively, clinging desperately to anyone available.
- Unexplained jumpiness.
- Extensive brooding.
- Complete lack of enthusiasm for any activity.
- Noticeable lack of self-confidence: rarely speaking up, needing extensive coaxing to try anything new.
- Referring to herself with emotionally loaded words such as “worthless” or “stupid,” or with curse words—especially in language atypical for children that age.
- Begging you not to tell parents about poor performance or other concerns.
A sexually abused child may also show interest in more “mature” topics, or be more reluctant to undress for the bathroom or gym, than typical for his age.
How to Report Child Abuse
Your school should have official policies on what to do in cases of suspected abuse, but in case these are vague or unsatisfactory:
- Look up your municipal or state contact information for reporting child abuse.
- Provide specific details and evidence for your concerns.
- Ask what will be done and when. If you feel the agency hasn’t followed through, call again or try the next authority up.
Above all else, do not ignore your concerns. While many of the above symptoms may have causes other than abuse, nearly all of them indicate a need for some sort of professional help. And if you’re still afraid of “stirring up trouble,” consider: How would you feel if one of your students was buried this year under the epitaph: “No one wanted to get involved”?