Teacher facing several students who are eager to learn in the classroom
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How teachers can help identify domestic violence

By Noah Rue

Domestic violence, unfortunately, doesn’t restrict itself to adults. Sixty-five percent of adults who abuse their partner also physically and/or sexually abuse their children. It’s heart-wrenching to read statistics like these and realize the trauma children endure when experiencing domestic violence.

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Children of all ages experience physical, sexual, and emotional abuse in their homes and communities. Without the support of capable adults, caring educators, and advocates for our children’s well-being, they’ll be unable to heal and move forward from such experiences.

Teachers play a dynamic role in recognizing when something is wrong, putting a stop to it, and providing crucial support for coping with and healing from trauma, especially in domestic violence cases. The global COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns triggered a surge in domestic violence cases. So, teachers must be knowledgeable in identifying the signs of domestic violence.

Here are three ways to identify the signs of domestic violence in your students and actionable tips for helping them heal. 

Three ways to identify domestic violence in your students

It’s important to note that domestic violence is more than physical abuse and is not always noticeable without further investigation. Victims also may not see their partners or household members as abusive or violent. So, it’s common for students to protect their abuser or be less than willing to come forward about abuse. 

You’ll need to be patient, caring, and intentional about creating a safe space for students to seek support. It starts with learning the warning signs for domestic violence and being conscious of them in your students. Here are three ways to identify if a student is experiencing domestic violence. 

Keeping a close eye on school performance 

Children suffering from domestic violence face obvious challenges at home but also noticeably so in the classroom. While you should always keep a close on how well each of your students is performing in school, a sharp decline in grades, attendance, or engagement could be a sign of domestic violence.

Children experiencing any form of domestic violence have isolation issues and trouble focusing on tasks in front of them, completing assignments, and forming healthy relationships with educators and classmates.

When a student’s performance is suffering, schedule some one-on-one time with them to explore potential challenges. Ask questions surrounding their home life and see if you can identify any potentially abusive situations. Reach out to colleagues such as the school counselor for some questions you can ask that will glean more information. Also, be sure to ask them how you can further support them.

Paying attention to physical signs of abuse

Teachers are in an excellent position to be especially mindful of physical signs of abuse because of how much time they spend with their students. Early detection of and prevention of any future domestic violence can be attributed to how fast you notice something is wrong with a student’s physical well-being.

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According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, “Physical signs of maltreatment are those that are readily observable. They may be mild or severe, such as numerous, deep bruises or broken bones, or more subtle, such as malnutrition or the wearing of inappropriate clothing (e.g., a lack of warm clothing in winter).”

If you see consistent physical signs of abuse, initiate a conversation with your student to identify the source of those signs. Gauge how willing they are to share the story of what happened and if it makes sense. If physical abuse is confirmed or you’re highly suspicious this is the case, you’re required to report it to authorities.

As a teacher, you’re classified as a mandatory reporter because of your frequent involvement with children. Mandatory reporters are required to report the facts and circumstances that led them to suspect that a child has been abused or neglected. Be sure you’re following your institution’s internal guidelines for suspected child abuse and your state’s guidelines for reporting with the help of the next level of leadership.

Recognizing extreme emotional reactions or moods

Take note of any students acting out emotionally, displaying aggressive behavior, or showing extreme mood swings throughout the day. All these behaviors are related to domestic violence exposure in the home.

Emotional responses in students experiencing domestic violence vary by age. Preschool-aged children could cry uncontrollably, startle easily, or have trouble with nightmares. Elementary-aged children can be physically aggressive with other children or become overly-attached to an educator. Teenagers usually rebel, participate in risky behavior, and have a hard time with authority. 

When you notice a student is displaying any of the above behaviors, battling heightened anxiety and depression, or disproportionately responding to specific situations, ensure that you’re taking it upon yourself to find out more about why these things are happening.   

Actionable tips for helping students heal

If you expect a student may be experiencing domestic violence, use the above identifiers as a base to begin a more thorough investigation. Ensure that you’re ready to help students heal from domestic violence and cope with its emotional and physical scars by educating yourself on resources available to domestic violence survivors.

Enlist the help of social workers, police services, Child Protective Services, counselors, therapists, and other experts who could influence the healing process for students surviving domestic violence.

Attend any domestic violence training, classes, or appropriate support groups. Further your education on identifying warning signs, safely transitioning a student out of a violent home, and how to actively participate in a student moving forward from domestic violence.

Noah Rue is a journalist and content writer, fascinated with the intersection between global health, personal wellness, and modern technology. When he isn’t searching out his next great writing opportunity, Noah likes to shut off his devices and head to the mountains to disconnect.

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