Spotlight on: Physical Abuse

Posted 8 February 2022

The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games are well under way with athletes representing 91 flags competing at the highest level in ski, skate, bob and boarding events. We and Clare Balding have been excitedly watching the sport and spectacle as they take on high-adrenaline, gravity-defying and physically exhausting challenges for a shot at the crowning glory of a gold medal.

It’s all a far cry from the shocking scandal that engulfed British Gymnastics in the lead up to Tokyo 2020. Headlines were made when high profile gymnasts brought allegations of physical abuse toward coaching and governing staff, proving that not all which glitters is gold. British Gymnastics was a success story, bringing home medal after medal – but there was seemingly a dark underside.

Many foster children are placed in our care having suffered abuse and yet it is a subject lots of us don’t like to dwell on. Avoiding the conversation can help abuse stay hidden in the dark though. Something we don’t want to happen. Whether as a reminder or for first time reading, we’re going to use the next few paragraphs to shine a spotlight on physical abuse – because whoever you are, the more of us that are aware of the issue, the more there are to potentially help a child.

Physical abuse of a child happens when someone deliberately hurts or harms that child. This can include: punching or slapping, hitting with hands or an object, throwing, shaking, biting and scratching, kicking, breaking bones, burning and scalding, suffocating and poisoning. It is also abuse if a person makes up or causes the symptoms of an illness in the child.

Children will often trip, fall, bump and generally manage to injure themselves in all sorts of ways. Bruises, bites, burns and broken bones can be normal, but if they display as a regular pattern of injuries then you have a red flag. Equally so if an explanation for an injury doesn’t seem to ‘fit’. Other health problems can be indicators of abuse too. Drowsiness, vomiting and seizures can all be signs of poisoning, while drowning and suffocation can cause breathing difficulties.

Longer term, the effects of physical abuse can include anxiety, depression, eating disorders, criminal behaviour, drug and alcohol misuse, problems in education and risky sexual behaviour. Again, these are not guaranteed to have been caused by abuse, but they can be pointers that someone is suffering, or has suffered abuse.

If a child discloses physical abuse to you, even if they cannot name it as that, follow these rules:

  1. Listen carefully and take what they are saying seriously. Do not ask leading questions.
  2. Tell them they have done the right thing by speaking to you, reassure them what has happened is not their fault.
  3. Tell the child what you will do next, never promise to keep anything secret.
  4. As soon as possible, make detailed notes of what was said. Try to make notes during the conversation if you can.
  5. Inform someone straight away. If you are a foster carer you will know the drill, likewise if your organisation has a designated safeguarding officer. If you are unsure, contact the police . Do not confront the alleged abuser.

If you want to discuss anything from this article, please contact us – we’re always up for a chat. Especially if it means we can help children by shining a light and ending abuse.