Teacher Guide: Steps to Take to Report Child Abuse

Children come into a classroom daily with bumps and bruises on their legs and arms. Of course, kids are active, and falls and accidents will happen when they are not careful while playing. But, what do you do when you suspect that a child's markings are not due to simple childhood activities? If you have a child that comes to class dirty, with neglected hygiene, multiple fresh and faded bruises, and complaints of being hungry, chances are you are dealing with a case of child abuse. This article outlines the signs of child abuse and the steps for a teacher to take to report child abuse.

A teacher must be very careful when contemplating a child abuse report. Schools have administrative policies with regard to these situations, and a teacher must be careful to strictly follow those guidelines. There are cases, however, when the policies are unclear. For instance, some schools would rather a teacher report the suspected case of child abuse internally before contacting child protective services, so the administration can determine if the situation should be reported. This is unlawful according to state and federal laws, which mandates that teachers are to report suspicions of child abuse, and not allow administration to determine if the case should be reported.

One major fear that some teachers have when reporting a possible child abuse case is that this will anger the perpetrator and cause the child more abuse. Some teachers also find themselves second-guessing their suspicions for fear of being wrong about a child's well being. There are four primary forms of abuse that should be reported, given any suspicion that a teacher may have. They include:

Physical abuse: This is an intentional injury to a child given by the caretaker of the child. It may include, but is not limited to burning, kicking, punching, beating, which leaves external markings such as burns, bruises, and broken bones. Physical abuse is not accidental, and sometimes injuries will be noticeable in not so common places of general childhood accidents (knees, shins, etc.).

Child neglect: This is when a child's basic needs are not being met properly. You may notice a child not being properly dressed for the weather, comes to class consistently dirty, has poor dental hygiene, steals food from other children, and gives you verbal clues that he is not being properly cared for, among other things.

Emotional abuse: This is when a child's emotional needs are not met, such as not receiving the proper attention they need, not being shown signs of affection, harsh and consistent verbal abuse, threats in order to frighten a child, or rejection of the child.

Sexual abuse: This is simply sexual exploitation of a child.

A teacher who suspects child abuse must report the following information to social services:

  1. The child's name and identifying marks of the child
  2. All information known about the biological parents or the caregivers who interact with the child
  3. The address where the child lives, along with any information such as the parent's address, if living away from the home where the child lives
  4. Dates when incidents were noted of the child and types of incidents that occurred
  5. History of previous noted incidents
  6. History of any contact with the alleged abuser, or other pertinent information

Social services will then take on the case and do an investigation in accordance with the law.

Disturbing statistics about child abuse in the U.S. include:

  • An estimated 906,000 children are victims of abuse & neglect every year. The rate of victimization is 12.3 children per 1,000 children
  • Children ages 0-3 are the most likely to experience abuse. They are victimized at a rate of 16.4 per 1,000
  • 1,500 children die every year from child abuse and neglect. That is just over 4 fatalities every day.
  • 79% of the children killed are younger than 4.

(Child Help - 2006; http://www.childhelp.org/resources/learning-center/statistics)

Children need teachers and other responsible adults to take action. It could be a life you are saving.