Teachers Turn to Reddit to Share Stories of How They Spotted Neglect and Child Abuse in Their Students

Redditors share some truly harrowing stories. We share those, plus warning signs that might help a child in need from experts.

back view of student wearing backpack sitting on curb
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At least 1 in 7 children experience physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect each year, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that due to underreporting, this is likely an understatement. That's why it's so important for educators—who spend a good amount of time with school-age children—to report any signs of maltreatment that they may notice. Many teachers are actually mandated reporters, meaning they are legally required to report any suspected abuse to the school's administration and even to authorities.

Due to the pandemic, reports of child abuse are down because the abuse isn't as visible to those who would normally report it. With children at home more often, they're unfortunately more vulnerable: that's because 80 percent of child abuse perpetrators are actually the parents.

Over on Reddit, teachers are weighing in with what they've seen over the years and what provoked them to report suspected abuse or toxic home life. Many educators noted similar themes: acting out, avoiding going home, hunger, and a change in student's appearance.

"Acting out before holidays, or even weekends, is the one I see most," one teacher wrote. "Most high school fights are on Fridays (angry kids who don't want to go home and jump at any slight) or Mondays (something blew up on social media over the weekend and now they can settle it in person)."

When it comes to elementary school students, one Reddit teacher noticed that "they come in early to 'help', they stay after dismissal to help you clean, and they don't move quickly if their car number is called."

One band teacher even commented with one example that did turn out to be child abuse. "A lot of times when teaching kids in beginning band how to play their instruments early on you have to touch various body parts, hands of course, arms, hips and shoulders for getting them into proper posture alignment," the teacher wrote. "I always ask before I touch any where 'Is it okay if I touch your ____?' Almost all kids say yes. I’ve had two that have said no, one was a student with autism and did not want to be touched, and the other turns out was being abused at home. It’s not a guarantee of course, but often a sign."

And yet another teacher said that spotting a difference in a student's wardrobe could help identify abuse. "One sign of physical abuse - including severe beatings - is when students dress to cover every inch of their bodies," the teacher wrote. "It's especially noticeable during times of warmer weather when most students are wearing far less."

All of these instances make sense, but now, when many students across the country are attending class behind a computer in their own home, how can signs of potential abuse be seen if the actual abuse isn't flat-out happening in front of the teacher?

Warning Signs of Child Abuse—and How to Help

According to Daphne Young, the Chief Communications Officer at Childhelp, a nonprofit dedicated to the prevention and treatment of child abuse, there's been a spike in calls, texts, and chats to the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-4-A-CHILD, or 1-800-422-4453) during the pandemic.

"Without mandated reporters, like our heroic teachers, calling child welfare agencies, these poor kids are having to advocate for themselves," says Young. "The intensity of the calls our profession crisis counselors are fielding range from little ones trapped with abusers calling to say, 'School was my safe place. What do I do now?' to first responder parents requesting child care resources to survivors of child abuse being overwhelmed by old memories during the stress of the pandemic."

With that, Young suggests that teachers—though anyone can use these tips to help spot suspected abuse—be watchful of a few things, whether it be in the classroom or online:

  • Students not logging in or attending class
  • The actions of parents in the background of a Zoom class
  • A child's living situation, which could show signs of neglect
  • Overly anxious parents who may monitor or interrupt a child during virtual class ("They could be worried about a child sharing abuse in the home," says Young.)
  • A student's grades slipping
  • A child becoming withdrawn, disengaged, depressed, anxious, or stressed
  • A child showing obvious bruises, scars, wounds, missing hair, or discomfort
  • A dramatic change in the child's appearance or demeanor

"The best defense against child abuse is good prevention, and when teachers are educated about body safety and teach little ones how to 'tell a safe adult' if they are hurting, it can go a long way to opening lines of communication that keep classrooms—be they in-person or virtual—secure," says Young. "Like children and parents, educators can call/text/chat our hotline 24/7 for help and tips."

How to report child abuse and neglect: If you witness abuse happening in the moment, or you’re worried about a young child who’s unsupervised and unsafe for a length of time, dial 911. If you suspect abuse is occurring, or if a child has confided in you about abuse at home, call Child Protective Services in your area. You can Google your nearest office or find it by dialing 800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453).

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