No one wants to think about the possibility that a child they know might be a victim of abuse, but it is a sad truth that child abuse and neglect is a very real concern in the United Kingdom. In order to support children who are being neglected or abused, you need to have a good knowledge of the tell-tale signs that abuse or neglect is happening.
Some signs of child abuse are undeniable. For example, you might witness a child being neglected, or a child could disclose abuse to you with scars or injuries as evidence.
However, there are some ‘soft signs’ of child abuse that you should also be aware of. These are less easy to recognise, as, on their own, they might not look like abuse to the untrained eye. Paying close attention to children who display these ‘soft signs’ could help you to notice and report a safeguarding concern before it brings further harm to a child.
Some of the ‘soft signs’ of child abuse to look out for include:
- Overfriendliness towards strangers
- Recurrent nightmares
- Persistently seeking attention
- Excessive clinginess
- Low self-esteem
- Habitual body-rocking
- Wetting and soiling
- Indiscriminate contact or affection seeking
- Aggressive behaviour
- Withdrawing communication
There are a host of other ‘soft signs’ that you should also be aware of. A child below the age of puberty who is displaying overtly sexual behaviours, for example, could be experiencing abuse, and parents who use excessive physical punishment on their children may be perpetrating abuse. In these instances, you should report your concerns immediately.
In the United Kingdom, there is much more under-recognition of child abuse and neglect than there is over-reporting of cases that turn out to be untrue. Experts hope that these ‘soft signs’ will encourage professionals and staff working closely with children to err on the side of curiosity and report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect without hesitation.