The Role of Teachers in Recognizing & Reporting Child Abuse

Instructor: Clio Stearns
Child abuse is a serious problem, and teachers have a moral and ethical obligation to help abused children by reporting concerns. This lesson will review your role in recognizing and reporting child abuse.

Recognizing and Reporting Abuse

Child abuse, or the emotional, physical or sexual harm of a minor, is a terrible problem that can ruin the lives of children and families. Teachers are mandated reporters of suspected child abuse, which means they have a legal obligation to report any suspicion of maltreatment. If you suspect that a child in your class is being abused, you should talk to the principal or guidance counselor at your school, who will know what steps to take in your state or locality. Often, concerns will be investigated by agencies, like child protective services, where social workers are equipped to identify abuse and other problems and help find children appropriate support.

Reporting child abuse can be scary, though. Perhaps you aren't sure what is really going on with a kid, or you are worried about causing them more trouble. Maybe you are hesitant to incriminate parents or disturb a cohesive family arrangement. However, your ultimate obligation as a teacher is to the children in your care.

When suspecting child abuse, it's better to have a suspicious situation inspected than to allow it to go unheeded. There are many resources available to help children and families, and sometimes it can just be a matter of connecting people with the assistance they need.

Physical Abuse

Every teacher should know the warning signs of physical abuse because children who are being physically hurt need help as quickly as possible. The following warning signs might signal physical abuse:

  • Unexplained bumps, bruises and scrapes
  • Wearing weather-inappropriate clothing, like long sleeves, in summertime
  • An unusual or unhealthy interest in physical violence
  • Descriptions of physical abuse, even if children later take them back or pretend they are joking

If any of these warning signs arise, or if you suspect physical abuse for any other reason, you are obligated to report it.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse can be especially scary to talk about, and children who are sexually abused might not even know what is happening to them. If you see any of the following signs of sexual abuse in your students, you should think about discussing them with a principal or counselor:

  • Precocious sexual talk or behavior with other children or adults
  • Excessive or surprising masturbation
  • Explicit descriptions of sexual acts committed by adults
  • Complaints of pain, bruising or cuts in private areas

Here, it is important to remember that with young children, some exploration of sexuality and romantic behavior can be normal during play. When in doubt, it is always the right choice to discuss concerns or confusion with a principal, school counselor or social worker.

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