Posted: 29 June 2020

Being the eyes and ears: spotting signs of abuse and neglect during school closures

For the most vulnerable children and young people, school is a safe haven, a place to go to escape abuse, harm and neglect.

With school and college closures looking to continue until September now, we must all be more aware of signs of abuse and neglect within homes and our communities.

Risk of being hidden

Teachers and staff are the eyes and ears to pick up on any worries and concerns for children and families, and conversely, schools are a community hub whereby parents, carers and other family members can reach out and seek support when they need it.  

School staff play a key role in monitoring children’s well-being, they recognise changes in a child’s behaviour and they are there to report concerns and support families who are going through difficult times. Critically, school staff are a key multi-agency partner for safeguarding and without their crucial input, there is an increased risk of abuse and neglect for children and young people being hidden.

Identifying the vulnerable

When lockdown was announced, exceptions were made for vulnerable children and children of key workers, which allowed them to still attend school. 

We know that vulnerability is not easily categorised. Our practitioners work with many children and young people who may not be deemed ‘vulnerable’ and are therefore not able to go to school during lockdown.  However, we know these young people still need extra support. This means there is a huge gap in identifying, reporting and supporting our most vulnerable children in society.  

In addition, crisis such as this global pandemic will inevitably have an impact on children and families. These may include increased stresses such as job loss, increased debt, social isolation, mental health and well-being and domestic abuse with children caught up in the middle. These are concerns that school staff would usually pick up on and provide support, without them these vulnerable children are hidden.

What signs could we be looking out for?

Spotting the signs of abuse may be more difficult due to limited contact and social isolation. We are encouraging key workers and members of the public who are on essential trips to #LookCloser for young people who might be in public spaces and report if something doesn’t feel right.

Here are some signs for neighbours and key workers to look out for when visiting homes:

  • Guarded behaviour of a child around particular individuals
  • Sudden changes in behaviour
  • Children with bruises, burns, bite marks or fractures
  • Children appearing withdrawn, anxious or frightened
  • Hearing or seeing shouting and violence towards a child
  • Children seen carrying or using drugs
  • Children being late or arriving home late in different cars
  • Unaccompanied children visiting a house where only adults live

How to report signs of child abuse

If something doesn’t feel right, it might not be. Please refer to our guidance on how you can protect and safeguard children from child abuse.

If you think a child, young person or adult with care and support needs is at risk or being abused or neglected, contact the social care team at your local council. You can find their contact details on or through your local council.

If you have immediate concerns for the safety of yourself or others call 999.

More information about child abuse

If you are a child or young person and want to find out more about the signs of abuse or would like to know what to do if you're being abused, we have all the information on our advice hub.

If you have an urgent problem to talk about, Childline can be reached online or called anonymously on 0800 1111.


By Lucy Belcher

Read more

From climbing walls to phone calls: how our services are adapting in a crisis

Posted: 16 April 2020


Read more

School's out and young people are at risk: what closures mean for children across the country

Posted: 7 April 2020


Read more

Covid-19's impact on children at risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation

Posted: 2 April 2020