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Recognizing Child Abuse and Neglect

As we consider how to report abuse and neglect situations, it is important to review how information becomes known to educators:

  • An educator may suspect or become aware that a child has been maltreated because they observe certain physical or behavioral symptoms 103 (Also see Safe Kids Thrive section on Recognizing Abuse and Neglect 104 , and Appendix D);
  • Another child, educator, or other adult points out the symptoms or otherwise indicates that a child is at risk; or
  • A child self-discloses the alleged abuse or neglect.
Observation: Children who are being abused or neglected may demonstrate behavior which gives us clues about what is happening to them

Depending on their age, children tell us that there is something wrong in a variety of ways. Physically abused children may strike out against others or, conversely, withdraw and be wary of contact. Neglected children may steal or hoard food or lack the organizational skills necessary to learn. Sexually abused children may demonstrate sexual awareness that is too advanced for their ages, and younger children may regress to earlier behaviors or show fear of certain people (See Safe Kids Thrive section on Recognizing Abuse and its Effects 105 for additional indicators).

It is important that teachers learn to recognize these “red flags.” Children may actually be crying out for help and telling us, in the only way that they feel safe doing so, that they cannot handle what is happening in their lives. Sometimes suspicion is aroused either by the child’s behavior or by physical indicators such as bruises, but there may not be enough information to give you reasonable cause to believe that the child may have been abused or neglected. So what does the educator do?

The best recourse is to keep your own informal notes. By recording, not in the child’s record, but in your own notes, the child’s name, the date, and the nature of the suspicion, you establish ongoing documentation of what is happening. As you look back on this, you may discover that over time you have gathered enough information to report. This information will also be helpful to the CPT and DCF and should be provided to the intake worker when you call.

Peer Reports: Sometimes friends or classmates of maltreated children learn or suspect that their peer is being abused or neglected.

Out of concern for that child, the classmate may tell a teacher that they believe a peer is being abused, often attempting first to swear the teacher to secrecy. In fact, this is a secret that the educator cannot keep. The classmate must be helped to recognize that the only way to help is to intervene. A classmate may be encouraged to urge the child to come forward. Perhaps the support of a peer will make this possible. Or the teacher may want to talk to or have someone talk to the child who is suspected of being abused or neglected. If the child does not disclose the abuse or neglect, and there is not sufficient evidence to give you reasonable cause to believe that the alleged abuse or neglect has occurred, the teacher should document and be observant in the future.

Disclosure by the Child: Some children will tell a trusted adult about their maltreatment.

When a child discloses that they have been abused or neglected, a teacher or counselor may feel at a loss initially about how to respond. First and foremost, it is necessary to communicate several things to the child: that you are glad the child told you, that you believe them, and that they are not to blame. It often helps for children to know that it has happened to other children and that they are not alone. The response to a child who discloses abuse, if supportive, can have a positive effect on the child’s recovery. The Safe Kids Thrive website section on Reporting 106 contains more detailed guidance on responding to self-disclosed maltreatment 107 as well as the following set of printable guidelines.

103 https://safekidsthrive.org/prevention-topics/reporting/physical-and-behavioral-indicators-of-abuse/

104 https://safekidsthrive.org/prevention-topics/reporting/recognizing-abuse-neglect/

105 https://safekidsthrive.org/the-report/introduction/recognizing-abuse-its-effects/

106 https://safekidsthrive.org/prevention-topics/reporting/

107 https://safekidsthrive.org/prevention-topics/reporting/responding-to-direct-disclosures/


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