Unit 1. The Context for Children
Unit 2: Understanding child abuse
Unit 3: Understanding child safeguarding
Unit 4: Safeguarding concerns and abuse

4.2: Indicators of abuse

Indicators of abuse

In this lesson, we will learn to recognise the clues (signs /indicators) of children who are suffering abuse at home, in an organisation or in the community may give us.

Most indicators are not in themselves proof of abuse. But they should alert participants to the possibility and help them to consider what the next steps should be to support or investigate concerns about a particular child.

Research from adults who experienced abuse as children shows that many children do try and tell, or show that they are being harmed, but often are not listened to, believed, or have anyone to turn to whom they trust. The clues they give are therefore very important. Children often display particular behaviours to communicate their distress about what is happening to them. Often this behaviour is defined as ‘challenging’. Workers need to be able to recognise changes in behaviour and not punish the child.

Sometimes, when we find out a child has been abused, we can look back and see that there were signs that abuse was taking place. For example:

A teenage boy was being sexually abused by his father. He could not tell anyone about it. He drew attention to what was happening by stealing. He stopped going to school, feeling that he was a bad person. He was severely beaten over several months as no-one had associated the change in his behaviour with unhappiness about abuse. The sign that this child was experiencing abuse was that he had begun to steal –something that was very out of character for him. It is important that we are open to these signs or clues. 

Recognising indications of potential abuse is complex. There is no simple checklist that allows easy recognition. Indicators are potential warning signs. They should alert you. But they should be observed and assessed with care.

You cannot automatically assume that abuse has taken place. After talking to the child, you may find that the bruises on his legs, for example, resulted from falling off a bicycle. Indicators should also be considered in their local context and judgments made about their relevance. It is important, however, not to dismiss significant changes in behaviour, fears, worries and physical indicators a child is exhibiting. Do not ignore such signs. But always be mindful that it is not your role to be an investigator.

A child may be subjected to a combination of different kinds of abuse. It is also possible that a child may show no outward signs and hide what is happening from everyone.


➜ Indicators of abuse from Keeping Children Safe ‘Understanding Child Safeguarding – A Facilitators’ Guide

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