- It is not always easy to spot warning signs of child exploitation.
- It is important to recognize subtle signs of harm in order to protect children from neglect and abuse.
- Child abuse can be subtle and include bedwetting, parentification, chronic somatic pain, and parentification.
One in seven American children has experienced abuse in the last year. Children with special needs, children living in poverty and younger kids are most at risk.
No matter your age or background, the long-term effects of child abuse can be devastating. They can cause psychological issues, substance abuse problems, stroke, and increased cancer risk.
So, how can you intervene? People are familiar with the need to be on the lookout for injuries or bruises in children. You can also look out for subtle signs.
When a child is being physically, sexually, or emotionally abused, it can be physical, sexual, or emotional. While neglect is a form of child violence, it can also be the result of parental inaction.
These signs don’t necessarily indicate that abuse is taking place, according to Christie Mason, a clinical assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Social Work. They can indicate that more investigation is necessary.
1. Somatic symptoms that are persistent
Somatic symptoms refer to pains that are not explained by medical conditions. Somatic symptoms include headaches, stomachaches, and limb pain.
Although any person can experience somatic symptoms, studies have shown that they are more common in children who have been subject to abuse. Amy Levine, a clinical associate professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Social Work says trauma affects the nervous systems.
When kids are placed under stress, they – like adults – experience anxiety, which can in turn contribute to somatic symptoms. Abuse can lead to somatic problems.
Parentification refers to the act of a child taking on the role as a parent. The kid becomes the parent of the child, instead of the adult parenting them.
Levine says that an example would be if the parent is ill, and the child might take over the responsibility of caring for younger siblings, cooking the meals and signing permission slips to go to school. The concern is the “th
It can create a lot stress for children to feel they are being expected to play the role grownups. This can lead to a number of problems in their development.
Levine says that most parentification is associated with neglect. This happens because parents are often unable to care enough for their children. This could be because of substance abuse, mental health issues or long work hours.
Parentification can also be associated with other forms, such as physical or sexual abuse.
3. Age is not the right time to learn sexual knowledge
A child who has inappropriate sexual knowledge for his or her age is a sign that he/she is being sexually abused.
“An elementary-aged child might be able to say that two people can fit together and create a baby. Mason says they should not know every detail. “If they begin sharing information that makes it clear that they have witnessed or experienced sexual behavior, this is a red flag at certain ages.”
Mason suggests that a child playing with their dolls by grinding one on the other is an indication of inappropriate sexual knowledge.
But she also notes that it is important to be aware of the context and the circumstances. For example, precocious children might have more information about sex than their peers.
Other developmental regressions like thumbsucking and bedwetting can indicate possible physical or sexual abuse.
The bedwetting by itself is not a red flag. Mason advises that you look for a change of behavior.
It’s not likely that a child is constantly wetting their bed for many years.
If a child is suddenly prone to bedwetting, even though they were previously potty trained, this could indicate that they are experiencing a stressor. Mason suggests sexual abuse as an example of such a stressor.
Levine suggests that this phenomenon could be linked to children’s nighttime safety. “In families [with sexual abuse]”There is often a feeling of fear or isolation and children might be afraid to be able move around their house and do what they need,” Levine states. Children who feel unsafe getting up to go potty may wet their beds.
Levine adds that there is also a psychological aspect to trauma. Trauma can have a negative impact on children’s sleep patterns and nervous systems, which can lead to them being more likely to be wet.
5. Sudden dip in academic performance
Poor academic performance can be linked to abuse. A 2015 meta analysis found that children who have been abused report lower intelligence and literacy scores than their peers.
This could be due in part to the fact that children who have been abused are more likely than others to not attend school. It’s difficult to learn the lesson if you aren’t there to receive it.
However, even when they go to school, it can be more difficult for them not to worry about the math lesson in front. What will happen when I return home?” Levine says.
Mason says that it is important to pay attention to any changes. It could indicate that there is something more going on behind closed doors if a child who has excelled previously suddenly faces many difficulties.
Mason says, “It doesn’t necessarily mean that abuse is occurring. But children’s behavior usually doesn’t change suddenly for any reason.” “Whenever you notice a sudden change in academic performance, behavior, or any other indication of stress, it is worth asking the question and trying to find out what could be causing it.”
6. Unexplained gifts
An abuser might give money, clothes, or any other gift to the victim in cases of grooming and sexual abuse.
These gifts can be used to incentivize children to report abusive adults, or as bribes to encourage sexual contact.
A 2022 study of schoolgirls from Zambia revealed that teachers who abused students sexually gave money or gifts to encourage them to do sex acts.
Mason says that if your child begins to bring home presents from school and you don’t know their origin, this could indicate that your child has been having inappropriate contact.
This is a rare occurrence, however. Most children are abused by someone they trust. The parent may know the source of the gifts, but not the person grooming their child.
What signs to be aware of in parents
Children are often the first to notice signs of abuse. However, parents’ behavior can also be a sign that something is wrong.
Levine states that child maltreatment occurs because parents are unable to parent their children safely.
Levine states that “it’s not often that they don’t love their child. But maybe they have a drug abuse problem or mental health issue, or perhaps they are victims to intimate partner violence at the home.”
Levine says that parents should be paid as much attention as kids.
Reporting child abuse
When is it appropriate to report child abuse? Levine says that it can be hard to know the right thing to do when you don’t have all of the information.
You should still report suspected abuse to authorities. You will need to give reasonable suspicion that maltreatment is occurring in order to report abuse.
Reporting suspected abuse in certain states, such as Florida, Mississippi and Texas, is mandatory for anyone of any profession. In other states, however, the mandated reporting laws are only applicable to certain professions like teachers or doctors.
Mason suggests that you can talk to children if they are being abused to find out more about their situation. It’s important to not overwhelm the child and to avoid asking specific questions. This will allow them to freely share their story without being judged or pressured.
She says, “What you really want is to avoid getting into a situation in which you’re interrogating children and they’re feeling defensively or scared.”
She suggests that talking to other adults about the child’s life can be helpful to find out if they have made similar observations.
You can contact the following if you suspect that a child has been abused:
Reach out to a trusted adult if you are a child being abused. You can also reach one of the hotlines listed above.
It’s crucial to be aware of signs and symptoms of child abuse if you are regularly in contact with children.
There are many signs that can indicate abuse, such as unexplained bruises and sexually transmitted infections. But there are also subtle indicators you should be aware of, such as chronic somatic symptoms, parentification, sudden changes in academic performance, and other subtle signs.
If you suspect that your child is being abused you should take the time to think about the situation and figure out how to report it to authorities.