Allison Lee has been childminding for over 11 years and has cared for children aged from 10 weeks to 11 years. A mother of two boys, Allison's career has provided her with the opportunity to work for The National Childminding Association and she is currently employed.
TYPES AND SIGNS OF ABUSE
One of the most important aspects of a childminder’s job is to ensure that the children in their care are safe at all times. It is your duty to ensure that your premises, both inside and out, are free from any potential dangers and that you practice safe methods. There may, however, be times when you suspect that a child is being exposed to danger and ill-treatment when they are away from your setting and if this is the case you must act on your suspicions.
In order to be able to effectively ascertain whether or not a child is being mistreated it is important that you have a basic knowledge of the types and signs of abuse and that you are aware of the procedures you must follow if you suspect that a child is being abused.
There is no set pattern for child abuse. It can happen to any child in any family structure. Abuse does not discriminate. It does not occur just in poor families or single parent families but in ‘respectable’ families and to children who appear to come from loving, affluent homes.
If you decide to extend your training qualifications and go on to complete the Certificate In Childminding Practice and NVQ 3 in Children’s Care, Learning and Development you will cover, in detail, aspects of child abuse. However if you do not go on to complete these qualifications, you must still be aware of the signs and symptoms associated with child abuse.
This is when a child does not receive the appropriate care required for them to grow and develop. Neglect can come in a variety of ways, for example the child may be deprived of sufficient food, adequate clothing or medical care. A neglected child is not necessarily unloved. It may be that the child’s parents have issues of their own and these problems may be preventing them from caring for their child adequately.
Signs of neglect
- tired and listless;
- inappropriately dressed for the weather conditions;
- dirty with poor skin conditions, matted unclean hair, and persistent nappy rash in a baby;
- frequent health problems;
- frequent accidents;
- the child telling you that they are often left alone, perhaps in charge of siblings;
- parents who are often unable to be reached and who persistently fail to keep appointments with health visitors, teachers etc.
This is caused by an adult injuring a child through hitting, shaking, burning, using excessive force or poisoning.
Signs of physical abuse
- frequent, unexplained injuries such as bruises, cuts and grazes;
- bite marks;
- scalds or burns;
- frequent broken bones;
- lack of appetite;
- lack of interest in surroundings and activities, becoming withdrawn;
- showing aggression towards others;
- lacking self-esteem;
- delayed development.
This is when a child is used by an adult for their own sexual gratification. Sexual abuse can vary; it can include rape and involving children in pornography. Most cases of sexual abuse towards children are carried out by an adult who is known to the child.
Signs of sexual abuse
- non-accidental bruises and scratches, particularly around the buttocks and genital area;
- bloodstains and discharge in underwear;
- difficulty in going to the toilet, frequent ‘accidents’;
- difficulty walking or sitting down;
- frequent infections of the genitals;
- showing signs of distress;
- becoming clingy and withdrawn;
- inappropriate use of language and abnormal sexual behaviour;
- showing signs of comfort behaviour such as rocking or needing a comforter such as a dummy which are inappropriate for the age of the child;
- exposing themselves inappropriately;
- play which is of an inappropriate sexual nature;
- drawings or paintings of a sexual nature;
- unusual fascination with sexual behaviour;
- lack of appetite, unable to settle.
This is when a child is continually threatened verbally, either by being shouted at or put down. A child is also emotionally abused if their parent fails to show them adequate love and affection.
Signs of emotional abuse
- attention seeking, either by being deliberately uncooperative, telling lies or causing trouble within the setting;
- clinging to an adult;
- resorting to tantrums;
- having low self-esteem;
- constantly putting themselves down and commenting that they are worthless;
- having eating problems;
- resorting to self harm.
Recognising the signs
It is important to realise that there are other signs of abuse and you must be vigilant when carrying out your childminding duties. You must also bear in mind that some of the above mentioned signs, such as lack of appetite and restlessness, can also be experienced if a child is unwell. Obviously you must take illness into account when considering the facts. It is also important to remember that some birthmarks can look like bruises and some rashes may give the appearance that a child has been slapped.
Often people are afraid to get involved with cases of child abuse, either because they are worried about the effect it may have on their own lives or because they are not completely certain of the facts. However, it is vital that if you have any concerns, you report your suspicions to the appropriate authorities. It is important to realise that whilst cases of child abuse are rare, they do happen and you have to be confident when handling these situations.
You should be concerned if a child in your care has persistent injuries to the following areas of their body:
- back of the legs;
- rectal and genital areas;
- upper and inner arms.
Injuries to the above parts of the body are not usually associated with accidents. As with all checklists, the above is not perfect and it only provides an indication of what may constitute signs of physical abuse. Injuries to the above mentioned parts of the body are only signs that abuse may have taken place. The most important thing you, as a childminder, can do, is to be aware of the signs and record anything you observe which may be of concern. By noting down your observations you will easily notice if a pattern emerges or if a child in your care repeatedly suffers from injuries that cannot easily be explained.
If you become suspicious that a child in your care is being abused, you must follow your own Area Child Protection Committee procedure. You will be made aware of this procedure when you apply to be registered and you complete the compulsory course, Introduction to Childminding Practice.
If a child divulges information to you about an incident of child abuse, listen to them carefully and offer lots of reassurance. Tell them they have done the right thing by confiding in you and let them know that you are going to help them. Never promise to keep the information a secret. You will not be able to keep this promise and you will be letting down an already very vulnerable child who has trusted you and confided in you.
ALLEGATIONS AGAINST CHILDMINDERS
As a childminder you need to be aware of the possibility that someone may accuse you or a member of your family of abusing a child in your care. This is a rare occurrence but it is important that you are aware of the possible implications and what you need to do to protect yourself and your family against any such allegations.
An allegation of abuse against a childminder or a member of the childminder’s family may come about because parents are trying to cover up their own abuse of their children. In cases like this it is important that you do not discuss your suspicions with the parents -always contact another professional first.
The teenage sons of childminders are particularly vulnerable to accusations of child abuse and it is important that, because you work alone, you are aware of just how vulnerable you are to allegations. There are ways that you can protect yourself and your family from allegations of child abuse:
Maintain accurate, up-to-date records of all accidents and incidents to children in your care, and ensure that the parents sign your written record. Maintain accurate, up-to-date records of all injuries to a child arriving at your home. If you notice an injury ask the parents to explain what happened and record this in your accident book, and get the parent to sign it to show that they accept what you have noticed.
Report your concerns
Ensure that any concerns you may have about the welfare of a child in your care are reported to the appropriate authorities. Keep a written record of the nature of the suspected abuse and your conversations with the authority in question. Record the date and time of the conversation, who you spoke to and the action agreed.
Make sure that you never allow your own children to be left alone with any of the childminded children in your care.
Maintain confidentiality at all times.
Tell the parents
Make sure that you tell parents of any accident to a child in your care, however insignificant it may seem. Also, ensure that you tell parents if you notice any sudden changes in their child’s behaviour or if they appear to be using inappropriate language or play.
Always make sure that you use appropriate language when in the presence of the children and never resort to rough treatment when managing a child’s unwanted behaviour.
Allow children to ask you for cuddles rather than you asking them.
Encourage children to become independent as soon as possible, particularly when they are carrying out personal tasks such as going to the toilet, getting changed etc.
Encourage children to be honest and teach them not to keep secrets. However, never push them to divulge information they are not happy to tell you and do not put words into their mouth. If a child does tell you about an incident, allow them to tell you in their own words; do not rush them. Offer them lots of reassurance and tell them they have done the right thing by telling you.
Make sure that you keep your training up to date and attend child protection courses to ensure that you are well-informed of the procedures you may need to take if you suspect a child is being abused.
Safety for children
Teach children how to be safe and how to protect themselves. Teach them about ‘stranger danger’ and the importance of telling an adult where they are going, who they are going with and when they will be back.
Coping with allegations
Having allegations made against you or a member of your family can be a very distressing experience, and it is important that you remain calm and professional at all times. Make sure that you keep records of all the conversations you have relating to the allegation and keep copies of all the letters or e-mails you send. If you are a member of the National Childminding Association you should inform them immediately of any accusation made against you. They will be able to offer legal help and advice. If you are not a member of the NCMA, then you can seek independent advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Dealing with any case of child abuse, whether the allegations are made against you, your family or someone else entirely, will have a strain on you and the way you conduct your business. You will experience a variety of feelings – anger against the abuser, hurt and upset if the allegations are made against you, shock at what has happened to the child and guilt at not having noticed that something was wrong. All these feelings are perfectly natural and you need to know how to handle them and where you can turn for support to help you through this difficult situation. It is important to remember that any cases of suspected child abuse are confidentialj however you can seek support from:
- child protection officers;
- social workers;
- health visitors and GPs;
- the NSPCC;