Virtual Signs of Abuse

Teachers and other adults in a child’s life are often the ones who intervene in cases of child abuse. According to DoSomethingOrg, “In 2018, 76% of child abuse perpetrators were a parent to their victim. In 2018, 62% of children placed in foster care were removed from their homes due to abusive neglect, totalling over 160,000 children.”

Spotting Signs of Virtual Abuse
Sourced from Georgia Hope and Virtual Lab School

Signs From the Child

  • Sudden changes in behavior or school performance (The child presents behavior drastically different from how they have in the past; e.g., significant weight loss, change in hygiene, behaviorally aggressive, depressed, despondent, etc.)
  • Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention
  • Is always watchful; seems to anticipate something bad might happen (observe the child’s reflexes, like seeming frightened when someone enters the room)
  • Lacks adult supervision
  • Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn in class or is continuously tired or sick
  • Does not want the class to end

Physical Signs of Abuse

  • Visible bruises or markings
  • Unexplained illness or injuries
  • Parents use harsh physical discipline.
  • Child absent from virtual classroom and/or missing a lot of their work
  • Personal hygiene and/or surroundings are not taken care of
  • Parent or child is abusing drugs or alcohol

Signs from the Parent

  • Shows little concern for the child
  • Denies the existence of—or blames the child for—the child’s problems in school or at home
  • Asks teachers or other caregivers to use harsh physical discipline if the child misbehaves
  • Sees the child as entirely bad, worthless, or burdensome
  • Parent demands unrealistic expectations that the child cannot achieve
  • Looks primarily to the child for care, attention, and satisfaction of emotional needs
  • Multiple, documented attempts to reach a child/family/caregiver have gone unanswered/ignored, and all opportunities to make contact (e.g., phone calls, email, reaching out to emergency contacts, etc.) have been exhausted.

Recognizing and Preventing Child Abuse & Neglect in a Virtual Classroom

Set a Safe Environment

  • Have rules about where students and teachers can video conference from
  • Classroom technology rules stay the same – no taking pictures or videos of the of classmates or instructors

Regularly Engage with Children and Their Caregivers

  • Make clear how you can be contacted and when you plan to connect
  • Ensure the ability to have private conversations with children and families when needed

Observe the Environment

  • Monitor the environment closely during video chats for changes in behaviors as well as any sounds heard during virtual contact (i.e. yelling in the background)
  • Observe and document any bruises or marks you observe during virtual contacts
  • Ask who is in the home and pay attention to the environment and who may be listening to the call

Asking the Right Questions
Sourced from USC Child Law Center E-Learning Program

  • Talk regularly to children and their caregivers.
  • Ask specific questions
  • Notice any changes in the way the child or adult responds to questions
  • Ask if there is any need of support and work with them on finding support

Sample Questions:

  • How are you feeling today?
  • How was your night?
  • How can I help you today?
  • Who is home to help you with learning today?
  • How are you doing with your new way of learning?
  • What fun things do you have planned today?
  • What else would you like to share with me today?

Questions about wellness:

  • What did you have for breakfast? For lunch? For dinner?
  • What have you been doing inside/outside during the day?
  • What is the best part about your day? 
  • What was the hardest part about your day?
  • What do you like about being home from school?
  • What do you miss about not going to school?
  • What have you been doing for exercise?
  • How is your family? Is there anything you or your family need during this time?
  • I know you and ___ are friends, have you been able to keep in touch with each other?
  • Have you been able to talk to other family members or friends during this time? How are they doing?
  • How are you sleeping? Are you getting enough sleep?

Observations and Responses

  • I know you like to ___, have you been able to keep up with it?
  • I’ve noticed/it was shared that you have been struggling; how can I help you with that?
  • I’m hearing some other noises in the background, what else is happening at your house today?
  • I saw a younger/older person walk by your screen, who is home with you today?

South Carolina law requires that certain professionals report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect, because they have unique opportunities to observe and interact with children. The following professionals are mandated reporters of child abuse or neglect:

  • Healthcare professionals: physicians, nurses, dentists, optometrists, medical examiners or coroners or their employees, emergency medical services, mental health or allied health professionals
  • Educational professionals: teachers, counselors, principals, school attendance officers
  • Social or public assistance professionals: substance abuse treatment staff, childcare workers, foster parents
  • Legal professionals: police or law enforcement officers, juvenile justice workers, volunteer non-attorney guardians ad litem serving on behalf of the South Carolina Guardian ad Litem program or on behalf of Richland County CASA, judges
  • Undertakers, funeral home directors, or their employees
  • Film processors
  • Computer technicians
  • Clergy, including Christian Science Practitioners or religious healers (subject to laws governing privileged communication)

However, the law encourages all persons to report.

Common Questions From Teachers
Sourced from Colorado4Kids

How can I report my concerns?
If it is an emergency, call 911. This will ensure the immediate safety of a child and get medical attention if needed. If it is not an emergency, call the National Report Child Abuse Hotline at (1-800) 422-4453, the Children’s Law Center at 888-CARE4US (888-227-3487), or the South Carolina Department of Social Services at 1-888-227-3487. Find a list of hotlines for each state here.

What questions will I be asked if I make a report?
You will be asked for demographic and identity information for the alleged victim, family and household members, and the person alleged to be responsible for the abuse and/or neglect; presenting problem, family supports, and additional questions related to the type of abuse and/or neglect you are reporting.

How can I document that I made a report of suspected child abuse?
Every time you make a call, you should request (and write down) a hotline ID number. As a mandatory reporter with a legal requirement to report concerns about child abuse or neglect, you can use the hotline ID as documentation for the call.

As a mandatory reporter, can I remain anonymous?
Child protective services and its employees are required by law not to disclose the name of the mandatory reporter to the family. However, this confidentiality does not apply to reports made to law enforcement. 

Note: It is possible that as a reporter of child abuse and/or neglect, you may be called to testify at a civil or criminal trial regarding the allegations. The victim’s parent and/or family members may be present at that hearing. Remember, it is important that you act as the eyes and ears for the child protection safety net. If reports of maltreatment are not made, appropriate services will not be delivered to the children and families who need them. Without your call, the abuse and/or neglect may continue.

If you would like more information on mandated reporting and virtual signs of abuse, please contact Pee Dee Coalition today.

Please check this list of resources (including those we used here!) for further information on virtual signs of abuse and ways to prevent and report abuse in a virtual classroom:

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