The statistics on children who have been mistreated are heartbreaking. According to recent research, one in 10 youngsters have experienced some form of maltreatment.

Educators and school faculty members are in a unique position to recognize and respond to signs of child abuse, neglect and mistreatment. There may be outward physical signs. But there also may be changes in mood or behavior that are apparent only to those closest to a child.

Especially among younger students, the ability to articulate what has happened to them may be difficult or impossible. And even teenagers may not understand that it is illegal for an adult to be sexual with them or for a parent to abuse them. When the abuser is a loved one, the dynamic can cause a great deal of conflict and lead a victim to deny or hide the situation.

Physical Abuse

Common physical indicators of abuse include:

  • Suspicious wounds such as surface injuries, the imprint of an instrument, burns, wrapping or bondage injuries, and unusual bruising patterns.
  • Multiple wounds in different stages of healing.
  • Bruises in clustered patterns.
  • Injuries that are more apparent following weekends, school holidays or absences.
  • Questionable fractures, especially to the nose or face.

Behavioral signs that may be related to physical abuse are:

  • A child who is unable to tell you how they became injured or those who tell a story that is not believable in relation to an injury.
  • Extreme aggressiveness – or the opposite: a child becomes unusually withdrawn.
  • A student who is jumpy, on edge or fearful.
  • A child who is uncomfortable undressing in front of their peers.
  • A youngster who seems overly eager to please or is wary of adults.
  • A student who is afraid of their parents, frightened about going home, or terrified about getting into trouble.

Sexual Abuse

Physical and behavioral signs of sexual abuse include:

  • Complaints about headaches and sickness.
  • Pregnancy in younger adolescent or pre-teen girls.
  • A sudden change in behavior.
  • Running away.
  • Depression or suicidality.
  • Regression to more childlike behavior.
  • Changes in relationships to adults, such as becoming more clingy – or more avoidant.
  • Lower school engagement and/or achievement.
  • Demonstration of sexually provocative behavior or promiscuousness.
  • Frequent talk about friends who are unusually older, or about having sex or being touched.
  • Extreme avoidance of undressing or any physical contact.


If a child is neglected at home, these red flags may be apparent:

  • They may be gaunt or underweight or have a bloated stomach or pale, flaky skin.
  • They may present unattended health concerns, such as skin infections or coughs.
  • Their hygiene may be consistently poor.
  • Their clothes may be inappropriate for the weather; for instance, they come to school without a jacket in cold weather.
  • They are frequently very hungry or extremely fatigued. They may even fall asleep during school.
  • They beg or steal, either food or property.
  • They come to school early and leave late. They may come right out and say there is no one at home to care for them.
  • They are clingy.
  • They are depressed.

For additional resources and guidance as you build your school-based therapy career, contact the Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services team today. We can help you find your next great job or continue along your career path of learning, development and improvement. As therapists ourselves, we look forward to partnering with you.

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