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Teachers: How to recognize and report child abuse

Teachers want the best for their students, including a safe and nurturing learning environment. Some students are unable to take advantage of that environment, because their world outside of school is in turmoil. One source of this disturbance may be domestic violence.

In many parts of the world, reporting of child abuse is mandatory. Under Alberta law, teachers must report any incidents of child abuse or suspected child abuse. The Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act states:

4(1) Any person who has reasonable and probable grounds to believe that a child is in need of intervention shall forthwith report the matter to a director.

Failure to report an incident carries penalties of up to $2000. A person making a report of child abuse cannot be made the subject of legal action, unless the reporting “is done maliciously or without reasonable and probable grounds” that child abuse is happening.

So, if Alberta teachers are obligated to report child abuse, how can they recognize it, and how do they report it?

Signs of Child Abuse

In its educational materials, the John Howard Society of Alberta has a document about signs and symptoms of child abuse that should be helpful to teachers looking for a recognition guide. The document is part of a larger educational module on family violence.

The document gives a long list of signs to look for. Here are just a few.

  • Often hungry, dirty or not dressed for the weather
  • A young child who is often left alone
  • Taking on adult responsibilities (caring for a younger sibling, doing household tasks, or “looking after” a parent)
  • Lack of energy or being very passive
  • Frequently unaddressed physical or medical needs (hair, teeth, eyes, ears)
  • Irregular school attendance
  • Lack of interest in the surrounding sights, sounds, or people
  • Refusing to participate in physical activities or dress appropriately for them
  • Frequently exhibiting aggressive, angry or hostile behaviour toward others
  • Bullying
  • Extreme watchfulness

The Alberta government also has a one-page PDF document available that gives similar information.

How to Report Child Abuse

In Alberta, teachers and other concerned people who suspect a case of child abuse can report it by calling their Child Abuse Hotline at 1‑800‑387‑5437 (KIDS).

Elsewhere in the world, many government departments concerned with child and family welfare have similar hotlines. You can also contact your local family services agency. Contact information should turn up with a quick Internet search, or an inquiry with your school counsellor (if you have one on staff).

No teacher or responsible adult wants to see a child endure abuse, especially at home, where they should feel safe and secure. For abused children, a teacher can be the catalyst for a series of changes that will bring about that safety and security for them.