Unless you are in a home, or intimately involved with a family, it’s very difficult to tell and especially to prove whether or not a child is being abused. After reading another article in our local paper about the death of a little one, it behooves revisiting the signs and symptoms of child abuse. Please beware that this is not a sure-fire guarantee that a child is being abused, and is certainly not a comprehensive list, but it points out the necessity for child care workers and neighbors to be observant and report any concrete evidence. No authority figure, or officer of the court, will question or report your suspicion of abuse or neglect to the family in question.
- The fearful child. This child is afraid of everything and everyone, hiding at sudden noises, going from laughter to terror at a moment’s notice. They may come in clinging to mom or dad’s leg, and wail at their leaving, or you may notice relief after a couple of minutes have passed. They may even tell you they dread going home, but won’t say why. They may cling to one parent and flee from the other, in hysterics, or may even scream when their caregivers arrive to pick them up. You may notice unexplained absences and more blatant terror when they return to the classroom.
- The hurt child. This child comes into childcare with unexpected bruises or injury. You may notice a pattern to their pain: after a weekend, after a holiday, before or after a special family event. Sometimes they have been warned to keep the injury a secret, especially if the child is young, and they won’t be forthcoming, or may tell an awkward lie about how they got hurt. Document, document, document.
- The cringing child. Their mother or father may be loud and aggressive toward them. They may cringe away from you when you raise your voice in the classroom, even if you are calling another child. They may avoid other children and prefer to play alone, in a corner, or may stay close to you instead of interacting with others.
- The aggressive child. Sometimes, when children have been repeatedly abused, this shows up as aggression. This may be the child who pushes others, taking delight in their pain. They may lash out, or act out, or openly defy a caregiver. Sometimes they are the most physical children, the ones most difficult to deal with and who simply do not respond to any tricks in your teaching repertoire. But they may also be in the most pain. Watch for patterns, and once again, document incidents and their causes.
- The sexually aggressive child. This is the child who is sexually aware far before the ‘norm.’ They may ‘flash’ other children, or attempt to touch their private parts. They may have absolutely no sense of socially appropriate behavior, or may masturbate excessively. These children may dress inappropriately, too, and their parents may look askance when you suggest they wear ‘play clothing.’ They may be crude and blunt and seem to know far more than they should at their age, but may not want to say where they learned this behavior, or from whom. They will, in turn, shock and intrigue the other children, teaching them far more than they need to learn on the playground, at nap time, or in the washroom. Watch them closely and speak to your Director if necessary.
- The neglected child. This is the saddest of all: the child who arrives unwashed and uncombed day after day. They may be filthy and reek, causing other children to avoid them and call them names. They may seem to only have one or two outfits to their name, and may come without diapers, without changes of clothing, a jacket or proper shoes. They may show up at the daycare in a diaper that’s leaking, obviously unchanged for hours at a time, without a bottle or lunch. You may notice that their clothing is ripped, torn, inappropriate and beyond repair. They may stay at child care from when it opens until it closes, with parents arriving late to pick them up on a consistent basis with one excuse or another. You may have to resort to calling CFS to help this child.