Indicators of harm

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People working with children and young people can help to prevent harm to a child by being open to noticing the signs or indicators of harm, and then taking appropriate action early. It is necessary to be attentive to:

  • Physical signs of physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect.
  • Behavioural signs of physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect.
  • Disclosures by the child or young person.
  • Physical and behavioural signs There are both physical and behavioural signs or indicators that a child or young person is being abused or neglected, or is at risk. These signs can be observed, inferred from evidence, or disclosed by the child or young person.

Some indicators, especially behavioural ones, may be the result of problems other than abuse and neglect, such as being a witness to a traumatic event or having a particular health problem, and will require action such as contacting other relevant organisations or professionals.

Ultimately, it is the role of the Child Protection worker to undertake the risk assessment based on the information gathered from a notifier and determine whether significant harm exists.

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Physical abuse

Physical indicators:

  • bruises
  • burns
  • scalds
  • welts
  • internal injuries
  • shaking injuries
  • strangulation.

Behavioural indicators:

  • wary of physical contact with adults
  • frightened of parent
  • expresses little or no emotion when hurt
  • unduly compliant, shy, withdrawn, passive, uncommunicative
  • offers unlikely explanation for injuries
  • nervous, aggressive, disruptive.

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Sexual abuse

Physical indicators:

  • injury to genital or rectal area—bleeding or bruising
  • discomfort in urinating or defecating
  • frequent urinary tract infections
  • vaginal or anal bleeding or discharge
  • sexually transmitted diseases
  • pregnancy, especially in very young adolescents.

Behavioural indicators:

  • child tells of abuse
  • persistent and age-inappropriate sexual activity
  • regressive behaviour—bed-wetting, speech loss
  • delinquent or aggressive behaviour
  • self-injurious behaviour—alcohol abuse, self-mutilation, suicide attempts, prostitution
  • shows signs of depression.

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Emotional abuse

Physical indicators:

The child or young person is:

  • treated as a scapegoat
  • emotionally rejected
  • isolated
  • verbally abused continually
  • devalued
  • exposed to family violence.

Behavioural indicators:

  • compliant, passive, undemanding
  • low self-esteem
  • demanding, aggressive and angry
  • antisocial and destructive
  • depressed and suicidal
  • attention seeking.

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Physical neglect

Physical indicators:

The child/young person is not provided with:

  • a safe environment
  • food
  • clothing
  • shelter
  • recommended/required medical care.

Neglect includes abandonment, rejection or forced eviction from home.

Behavioural indicators:

  • indiscriminate with affection
  • constantly miserable and irritable
  • alienated from peers, withdrawn, pale, listless
  • begs for food
  • engages in delinquent acts
  • poor social skills.

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