It is National Child Abuse Awareness Month. In review, my last post, Child Abuse - Part 3, touched on the subject of what to do if a child in your care comes to you about being abused or shows signs of abuse.
Many have asked me about the signs and indicators of child abuse. This is another discussion to get you thinking. This will not be an all-inclusive list. Each child is different, and each scenario of abuse is unique. As mentioned in my book, Yet Still I Stand, "These and similar signs/indicators should be investigated further to determine the cause" (Tara Alston, 2022, pg. 62). There can be other signs/indicators of abuse, and it is just as important to mention that just because a child displays one of these signs does not mean that the child is being abused. This list will assist you with thinking about the ways a child may change or behave if something just isn't right so that you can look closer, have discussions, etc. to get to the root cause.
I go on to address the following signs of abuse:
Display of unusual sexual knowledge or behavior for age
Changes in the child's demeanor - Have they become quiet and reserved when they had once been playful and outspoken or any other major change?
Expression of or showing fear - Do not dismiss this and just tell them that everything is fine...ask questions. Why do they feel afraid?
Inability to focus on schoolwork - Why can't they focus? Are they dealing with more serious issues?
Health issues, such as chronic urinary tract infections that could indicate sexual abuse
Physical signs of abuse or neglect, which may include things such as burns, bruises, cuts, and broken bones but can also include things such as having a look of hopelessness or fear, being withdrawn, wearing dirty clothes, being unusually hungry, etc.
Signs of self-harm - This may be noticed as cuts or burns.
Sexually transmitted disease - This would be diagnosed by a doctor.
Displays of anger/emotional eruption
Yet Still I Stand, 2022, pg. 63
Children may not be able to express the abuse they are experiencing. It is up to us to pay attention to the children with whom we are connected to ensure we notice the signs they may display. This could protect them from future abuse and also help them begin their healing journey.
If this is a child that you have guardianship of, you can reach out to a professional to assist you (e.g., doctor, counselor, attorney, police). If this is a child that you do not have guardianship of, you can still reach out to a professional for guidance and to potentially report what you have seen. Through all of this, it is also important to take care of you because these situations also have a big impact on those who care about the child experiencing abuse.