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Telltale Signs of Child Abuse and/or Neglect

Published: 2011-09-03 - Updated: 2016-06-13
Author: Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance
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Synopsis: Signs include showing up at school early or staying late and not wanting to go home behavior that seems overly compliant withdrawn poor hygiene or clothing and unaddressed medical or dental needs.

Signs of Child Abuse Over the Summer may Show up When Children Return to School.

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Signs of Child Abuse Over the Summer may Show up When Children Return to School.


Most kids who have just arrived back at school are energetic, talkative, and eager to tell their friends about what they did over the summer, but an unfortunate few may be uneasy or trying to hide the scars of having spent a difficult summer in an abusive or neglectful home.

The dark secret of abuse and neglect has a way of slipping out, and it's often up to teachers to be alert and notice the tell-tale signs.

Teachers and other school employees are "mandated reporters." That means they have a legal duty to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Experience has shown that in the first few days of kids being back at school after summer vacation, the signs of abuse or neglect often tend to show up.

"This is a time for teachers to have their radar turned up high," said Tina Phillips, director of training for the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance (PFSA). "They may see behaviors or physical clues that suggest abuse and that stick out a little more because they are so at odds with the way most kids come back to school after a happy, healthy, fun-filled summer."

Phillips said the signs include such things as showing up at school early or staying late and not wanting to go home; behavior that seems overly compliant, withdrawn, or passive; poor hygiene or clothing that's dirty or poorly fitted; and obviously unaddressed medical or dental needs.

Sometimes the signs are very subtle, she said, such as difficulties in learning or concentrating not attributable to specific physical or psychological causes or indications of sexual knowledge or behavior not typical for the student's age. Other times, she added, the clues can be very direct unexplained bruises, burns, broken bones, or other suggestive injuries; displaying fear of parents; or mentioning a lack of adult supervision at home or the use of drugs and alcohol by parents.

Phillips said the behavior of parents at parent-teacher conferences or school open house nights also can signal problems at home - such indicators as showing little or no concern for the child's welfare, blaming the child for problems at home or school, requesting harsh discipline, conveying that a child is worthless or burdensome, making demands on a child beyond his or her developmental abilities, or rejecting offers of help for a child's problems.

"These are some of the signs that something could be wrong but they are by no means all inclusive," Phillips said.

"And it is important to point out," she added, "that the law does not require certainty when it comes to reporting suspected child abuse or neglect. The operative word is 'suspected.' It's not necessary to be absolutely sure. The only threshold is reasonable suspicion."

She said it's better to make a report and let children and youth authorities conduct an investigation than it is to hold back.

Anyone can report suspected child abuse or neglect by calling ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313.

"Every year, statistics show that most child abuse is committed by parents and other family members," Phillips said. "Teachers and other school employees are uniquely situated to see children on a frequent basis and observe behavior, appearance, and changes in both. They are on the front line when it comes to combating child abuse."

PFSA supports state legislation that would require training for teachers and other education professionals in identifying and reporting child abuse.

PFSA specializes in providing training on recognizing and reporting suspected child abuse and neglect through schools, early childhood education centers, religious institutions, and social service agencies. It annually trains an estimated 8,000 individuals who work with or around children in how to recognize and report suspected child abuse.

PFSA also is the Pennsylvania sponsor of The Front Porch Project®, a community-based training initiative that educates the general public about how to protect children from abuse and works with more than 50 affiliate agencies across Pennsylvania to provide information, educational materials, and programs that teach and support good parenting practices.

Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance -

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Cite This Page (APA): Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance. (2011, September 3). Telltale Signs of Child Abuse and/or Neglect. Disabled World. Retrieved September 26, 2023 from

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