If you are a professional who works with children, you ought to be extra vigilant about “soft signs” that could signal child abuse, says the new draft guideline from the National Institute For Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Using instincts, instead of the checklists, can help young victims at an early stage.
These signs include low self-esteem, nightmares, display of anger at minor provocation and excessive dependency.
Cases of child abuse often go neglected because children either feel ashamed to express their predicament or are too naïve to grasp and understand the wrongdoing. They could then vent their fear out in soft signs that do not “hint” abuse, but could be a strong warning sign.
Other signs that warrant further investigation include the child arriving at the school injured or disarrayed. The child may even start displaying overtly sexualized behavior at a surprisingly early age.
The guideline is aimed at professionals who work with children outside health settings. These include teachers and policemen. There is a separate guideline for healthcare professionals. The guideline explains the steps to taken in case a professionals suspects “child abuse”.
Child abuse is any action by another person that can cause harm, injury, emotional turmoil or even death to the child. There are many types of child maltreatment; some of them include neglect, physical and sexual abuse, emotional exploitation, forced marriage, child trafficking and female genital mutilation (FGM). Even lack of love, care and attention on the parent’s part is counted as child abuse.
The risk of abuse increases manifold if either or both parents abuse drugs or have a history of mental illness, domestic abuse, anger issues and emotional vapidity.
In 2014-15, approximately 39,000 child abuse cases were reported in the United Kingdom (UK). In the UK and United States, more than three and a half million complaints against child maltreatment are filed each year. Each year, more than four children die as a result of child abuse.
Michael Petit, president Every Child Matters Education Fund says, ““Over the past 10 years, more than 20,000 American children are believed to have been killed in their own homes by family members. That is nearly four times the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The child maltreatment death rate in the US is thrice that of Canada’s and 11 times that of Italy. Millions of children are reported as abused and neglected every year.”
The guidance advises teachers and policemen to act on instincts instead of checklists to identify child abuse.
“This guidance is intended to help at the very early stages, when instinct tells you there’s something not quite right,” said Debbie Eaton, member of the committee that drafted the guideline.
“Everybody should be a bit curious and not assume that somebody else is looking after it. At this point, it’s not an issue for child protection, and, if help is provided soon enough, children may never need a social worker in their lives.”
The guideline advises professionals to prefer “experience” over “checklists”.
“There is a place for a checklist, but not at the cost of experience. Neglect is cumulative, so there may not be a single disclosure from a child.” Said Eaton.
The recommendation came after the systematic review of 158 papers. The committee noticed that young people who were victims of child abuse tried hinting their turmoil several times through various acts but people did not notice the signs. Moreover, the victims were either too afraid or embarrassed to talk about their situation.
The guideline also encourages involving parents since it will help develop trust.
The first draft of the guideline was released on February 22nd 2017. The draft will be out for consultation till April 2017 and the final version is expected to be published in September.