Educators play an extremely important role in protecting children, in recognising and responding to abuse, as well as helping to prevent it. Considering how much time children and adolescents spend in school in close contact with educators daily, trained educators can recognise indicators of possible maltreatment through observing children’s behaviour at school, pattern changes in personality or academic performance, physical signs, as well as family dynamics. As for preventive measures, educators have the opportunity to reach out to hundreds of children and to their families with educational and awareness programmes.
What are the most common forms of child abuse?
- Physical Abuse: is characterised as non-accidental injuries such as bruises and fractures resulting from punching, kicking, beating, biting, shaking, throwing, burning, etc.
- Child Neglect: is defined as failure to meet the child’s basic needs such as deprivation of adequate food, medical care, supervision, nurturing and tolerating truancy.
- Sexual Abuse: refers to sexual acts involving children (indecent exposure, fondling, penetration), sexual exploitation of children (touching and non-touching offences).
- Psychological/emotional Abuse: is a repeated pattern of caregivers that convey the child is worthless, unloved, unwanted.
What are the signs & symptoms that both teachers and parents should look for?
The different forms of child abuse are found alone as well as in combination.
General behavioural clues are observed by all forms of changes in the child’s behaviour such as but not limited to aggressive, oppositional, disruptive behaviour, being destructive to self and others, cheating, lying, stealing, unable to make friends, self-isolating themselves or wearing clothing inappropriate for season, disliking or shrinking from physical contact, not wanting to leave the school.
Physical injuries indicating abuse are bruises found in non-accident prone areas such as the lower back, neck, cheeks, ears, around the eyes, chest, abdomen, upper arm and thigh. These injuries sometimes have distinct shapes.
Tip: Ask yourself – Does the caregiver’s explanation make sense? Is there consistency in the description of what exactly happened as explained by all family members?
Sexual abuse indicators are children being overly affectionate and knowledgeable in a sexual age- inappropriate way, regressing to younger behavioural patterns (e.g. bedwetting), massive weight change, self-harming tendencies and suddenly drawing sexually explicit pictures.
Psychological or emotional abuse is often observed through above- mentioned behaviour, sometimes internalised resulting in development delay, psychosomatic symptoms, learning and speech disorders. Neglect tends to be more chronic. Indicators for child neglect are poor hygiene, poor weight gain, inadequate medical care or frequent absences from school.
Tip: Ask yourself: Is this culturally acceptable parenting, just a different lifestyle or true neglect? Learn also to listen between the lines when children are talking about what happens “at home”.
Where or how can they access help for the child once abuse is discovered?
Responding to abuse or suspected abuse is a very delicate process especially in this cultural setting and requires a systematic approach with a clear process map in accordance to your school’s Child Protection Policy. Varying circumstances (e.g. severity of abuse, definite or suspected abuse, cooperative or hindering parents) demand a different action plan.
Generally, in case of medical urgency or if the child is at risk of harm, then the victim needs to be referred to the hospital via the school administration. If there is concern about the child’s well-being and advisory guidance is needed, the local Social Support Center can be contacted.
Tip: Ask yourself: Are my planned actions in the best interest of the child?
Finally, all children deserve the right to a happy childhood. However, incidents of child abuse are real and in some instances quite terrifying. Let us remember the rights of children and do our best to protect them every day of their lives.
By Dr Lori Schwab
Dr Lori holds a MD in Family Medicine and a MSC degree in Psychosomatic, Psychosocial and Psychotherapeutic Medicine. She has always been strongly engaged in the area of child protection since joining Al Ain Hospital in 2010.