Identifying Signs Of Maltreatment

The physical abuse, especially its harshest forms, has specific symptoms, such as:

  • Bruises (on the head and on the ear or neck or soft areas – the abdomen, back and buttocks, on the forearm, upper arm, back of the leg, hands or feet in the shape of a hand or object, at different stage of healing)
  • Skin Lacerations (for instance in the place where ear is attached to the skull)
  • Eye Injury (subconjunctival hemorrhage – broken blood vessel in eye, black eye, swollen eye)
  • Burns or Scalds (e.g. cigarettes burns)
  • Bite Marks
  • Fractures or Broken Bones (e.g. spiral fracture)
  • Scarring

Some parents or caregivers may try to hide the abuse. They might give various explanation for the bruises or other marks on the body of their child, such as “the child was running and bumped into the table”. Children themselves may also try to hide the injuries, as they may want to protect their parents or they may be ashamed and fearful of consequences.

You should be particularly alert if the injury does not match the explanation given by the child or the caregiver.

Other symptoms of physical abuse may include:

  • Respiratory Difficulties (from drowning or suffocating)
  • Vomiting, Drowsiness (sings of poisoning)

Emotional abuse is more difficult to identify, as it has no specific symptoms and leaves no visible marks on the child’s body. However, if you notice that the child:

  • Struggles to control strong emotions or has extreme outbursts
  • Seems isolated from their parents
  • Lacks social skills or has few, if any, friends
  • Has low self-esteem
  • Is anxious, depressed
  • Has eating or sleeping disorders
  • Loses weight
  • Starts to soil themselves
  • Exhibits obsessive behaviours
  • Becomes aggressive towards peers
  • Misses school
  • Engages in self-harming
  • Has suicidal thoughts or attempts

It may mean that this child is being emotionally abused, particularly if you notice several symptoms and/or a worsening of symptoms. However, some of these symptoms may results from other problems, that is why it is important to look for the cause.

It is also important to remember that indicators of abuse can vary from child to child. Not all of children will present with all of the abuse symptoms or with the same pattern of symptoms.


Which of the above symptoms were exhibited by Janek and should raise the concerns of his teacher?