Teachers: How to Spot The Signs of Child Abuse and Neglect

For any professional working with children it’s essential to be able to identify possible cases of abuse and neglect at home, but it’s especially true for teachers. Teachers are often one of the most consistently present figures in a child’s life after their parents, and likewise teachers often see more of their kids than their parents do.

This means teachers are often in the best position to spot when something isn’t right, whether that’s in a child’s behaviour, a physical injury or problem, or even directly hearing of difficulties at home shared by the pupil.

Children can be exposed to a myriad of problems and abuse in their home lives, and it’s essential to be able to recognise possible issues by being familiar with the signs.

Child cruelty and neglect offences in the UK have doubled over the past five years in the UK. There were 16,939 child cruelty and neglect offences recorded by police in 2017-18, up from 7,965 in 2012-13 (NSPCC)


1 in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused

1 in 3 children sexually abused by an adult did not tell anyone

1 in 10 children in the UK have experienced neglect

Neglect is the most common reason from taking child protection action

Neglect is a factor in 60% of serious case reviews

What to look out for:

Emotional abuse

While every child is different and could have any of the following traits and still not be a victim of abuse, they can sometimes suggest emotional abuse going on at home.

Severe speech disorders such as stuttering or delays

Slow emotional, mental or physical development

Aggressive or very anti-social behaviour

Violent writing or drawing

Low self-esteem

Very passive behaviour

Fear of teachers ringing home


Neglect at home can often be spotted through a combination of physical and behavioural signs, from clinginess to an obvious lack of hygiene. However, it’s important to note that many of these signs can often be due to families struggling with low income.

Untreated medical conditions such as coughs or skin infections

Poor hygiene such as body odour or a dishevelled appearance

Inappropriate clothing, such as having no winter coat when it’s cold

Hunger in school, even begging or stealing food

Fatigue, falling asleep in classes

Clinginess and attention-seeking

Arriving early to school and leaving late

Physical abuse

It’s normal for most kids to occasionally get hurt in the course of playing and running around, but signs of physical abuse are usually distinct from these everyday injuries.

Any injury with no valid explanation

Serious injuries that haven’t been seen by a GP or hospital

Injuries on parts of the body not normally at risk in general games and play

Jumpiness, edginess, or being generally fearful

Very afraid of getting into trouble

Overly eager to please

Sexual abuse

This type of abuse often results in a range of physical and mental problems that can become very severe.

The child is aware of age-inappropriate sexual activities or behaviour

Sexual activities manifest in words, play, or drawings

Repeated urine infections or stomach problems

Disturbed sleeping patterns from nightmares and fears with sexual connotations

Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia

Depression and self-harm

Many of these signs can apply across multiple issues, so all can be the result of many different forms of abuse or neglect at home. It’s important to treat every child as an individual and take their personalities and natural tendencies into account when assessing for the possibility of abuse, but never overlook the possibility that something might be wrong.


Reproduced from the Virtual College who provide training in this subject