abuse and neglect

Ways to Recognize Abuse and Neglect

Teachers get to know a lot about their students, but how do they recognize signs of abuse and neglect among their students and get them the help they need?

Abused and neglected children keep their suffering to themselves because of embarrassment, fear, or just because they have been warned to keep quiet about what goes on at home. It is important for teachers to catch the warning signs of abuse and neglect evident in a student’s appearance and behavior as soon as possible to stop it and get help for the student and family members or others involved.

Teachers in every state are legally required to report reasonable suspicions of child abuse to the police or child protective services in their locality, according to Scholastic.com. Most school districts have policies in place concerning student neglect and abuse and every state has laws addressing these issues. All teachers should have the information for their state and district and follow these guidelines.

Some educators may be uncertain if their suspicions of abuse or neglect are strong enough to report and fear they may be further harming the child, inviting retribution from the parents, or breaking up a family by doing so. When should a teacher intervene?

Warning signs of abuse and neglect are set forth in helpguide.org and give teachers specific things to recognize:


*Frequent and unexplained injuries such as bruises, welts, or cuts
*Injuries with a pattern such as from a hand or a belt
*Clothing with high necks or long sleeves on a hot day to cover injuries
*Watchful and alert behavior as if waiting for something bad to happen
*May be afraid to go home, flinches at sudden movements, doesn’t like to be touched
*Very withdrawn and anxious
*Seems older or younger than age and acts inappropriately
*Sudden changes in behavior


*Dirty and/or poorly-fitting clothing
*Bad hygiene on a consistent basis
*Untreated sickness or injuries
*Often late or absent from school
*Hoarding food or eating large amounts at school
*Depression, mood swings
*Often left alone or unsupervised

The Mayo Clinic Child and Family Advocacy Center warns that some children who were victims of abuse and neglect may suffer as adults from issues such as learning disabilities, ADHD, physical disabilities, health problems, substance abuse, or even early death. Resultant behavioral issues in children who suffered neglect or abuse can be withdrawal, abuse of others, suicide attempts, high-risk sexual behavior, or delinquent and violent behavior.

Beth Lewis in a ThoughtCo. article encourages teachers to be observant and report any suspected abuse observed. She advises documentation of all observations including dates and times, support and advice of the school principal, advice and support of experienced co-workers, and confidence in reporting neglect and abuse, despite how difficult it is.

The U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect reports there are three million known cases of child abuse each year and millions more are not reported. Teachers can be the first step in helping neglected and abused children be safe, happy, and successful.

A trauma-informed teaching approach can be incredibly beneficial for students who have endured childhood trauma, such as abuse and neglect. The use of restorative justice in schools instead of traditional discipline strategies can help break the school-to-prison pipeline that many victims of abuse face.

More information is available from:
National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect
National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse
The American Humane Association
Child Help USA
Children Now

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