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Signs of Abuse

Each church should seek to ensure that all of those who work with children and young people in the church attend training courses so that they understand the ways in which children can be harmed. In particular it is important that those who work with children and young people are alert to the indicators that a child or young person is being abused.

Whilst it is not possible to be prescriptive about the signs and symptoms of abuse and neglect, the following list sets out some of the indicators which might be suggestive of abuse:

  • unexplained injuries

  • injuries on areas of the body not usually prone to injury

  • an injury that has not been treated/received medical attention

  • an injury for which the explanation seems inconsistent

  • changes in behaviour or mood (eg becoming very quiet, withdrawn or displaying sudden bursts of temper)

  • unexplained changes in behaviour or mood (eg becoming very quiet, withdrawn or displaying sudden bursts of temper)

  • inappropriate sexual awareness

  • signs of neglect, such as under-nourishment, untreated illnesses, inadequate care or inappropriate clothing for the weather or time of year

It should be recognised that this list is not exhaustive and the presence of one or more indicators is not in itself proof that abuse is actually taking place. It is also important to remember that there might be other reasons why any of the above are occurring – it is not your job to investigate or decide if something is abuse, only to report on what is observed.

Knowing whether a child is being abused or neglected may be difficult to judge. All those who have contact with children and young people should be alert to the potential indicators of abuse and neglect and know how to respond to concerns they may have. All workers should also know to whom those concerns should be reported.

Comprehensive training in safeguarding, including modules on recognising the possible signs of abuse should be undertaken by all workers.

Ways that harm might be discovered

On occasions an incident or an injury will give cause for concern, but often it is a series of incidents, or an accumulation of concerns, which indicate that a child may be suffering or is at risk of suffering harm.

  • Children and young people might share with a trusted adult a concern they have about their safety or disclose that they are being harmed.

  • A child’s observed behaviour, their physical appearance, developmental progress and emotional demeanour might indicate that they are being abused or neglected.

  • Sudden changes might be observed in a child’s behavior.

  • There may be a history of concerns noted over a number of occasions.

How adults (parents, carers, leaders, etc.) behave around children and young people might also give rise to concerns.

  • There may be indicators that parents/carers are experiencing difficulties which are having adverse and potentially damaging effects on their child, eg domestic abuse, substance misuse or mental health issues.

  • Observations of an adult’s interaction with a child or young person might give cause for concern.

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