Awareness and Remembrance, Emerging Issues, Staying Safe

How Teachers Can Look for Signs of Child Abuse, Even Online

April 14, 2021

School has changed drastically this past year, all over the world. Some children are back to school, most with varied restrictions due to covid-19, while others are still at home, either homeschooling or virtual learning. Many others have fallen between the cracks, which is a devastating side effect that has accompanied the virus lockdowns.

Rates of family violence have risen drastically all over the world. For people who live with an abuser, being isolated at home with little or no outside supports has compounded the situation and in many cases, increased the severity the abuse. This past year has brought an intense amount of stress. Job losses, financial instability, illness, anxiety about getting sick, caring for loved ones, cancellation of school and lack of affordable child care. The stress and financial strain has been linked to increases in both the frequency and severity of domestic abuse.

bored child

In normal times, a child could disclose the violence to a trusted adult: a therapist, a teacher, or a doctor. However, in Covid times, access to usual services and routines is restricted. For many children, school is their escape - their safe place - and now that’s been taken away. Getting help has never been harder. Advocates and social workers have had to adjust their services to ensure child-abuse and domestic victims receive necessary help, and this is not always simple.

Domestic violence is one of the most severe challenges facing children at school. When a child is in crisis-mode of any sort, it affects their ability to perform well in school, retain information, and focus on tasks. It can also greatly affect their friendships or ability to form strong supportive social relationships. 

For students who are still participating in some form of schooling, teachers can continue to utilize their position to help recognize signs of domestic abuse. Even lacking an in-person component, there are unique ways educators can be on the lookout for signs that a child is potentially in danger.


While we’re previously outlined ways teachers can watch for signs in pre-Covid days, let’s look at some of the different ways teachers can help, especially if face-to-face time is limited or non-existent.

  • Try to have video visits. You can continue looking out for the student even if you can’t see them in person anymore. Look for signs of physical abuse (bruises or other marks), signs they don’t have enough food, or signs of neglect - exhausted and disheveled

  • Look for children who are too young to be alone or young children left alone to care for younger siblings.

  • Look for red flags, such as a student suddenly becoming impossible to reach or completely unengaged where previously they were engaged.

  • Listen or watch for signs of tension or a reluctance to speak. Severe nervousness or ability to talk about how they are doing can be a warning sign they are being closely monitored and fear repercussions.

  • Is the child absent from the virtual classroom and missing most of their work? Check in over the phone and try to gauge if they are safe or if you sense neglect.

  • Trust your gut. If things feel different than they normally are and you find yourself worrying about a student’s safety, check in. If meeting alone with the student is possible to check in on them, this is a good first step.