I am part way through reading a book that has disturbed me greatly. In it the writer tells of his experiences as a child in and out of care homes during the seventies. It makes for disturbing reading but is difficult to put down.
This man, this small child, was so affected by the break up of his parents’ relationship that he started to ‘kick off’. Mum found another partner who the child struggled to relate to. Relationships grew strained. The child was in trouble constantly and he and the stepfather were constantly at loggerheads. Sound familiar?
I guess this is a common enough story up to this point. We all see the results of relationship meltdowns in every classroom daily. But circumstances were about to get even worse for this little chap. He was raped by his stepbrother. He was threatened, told exactly what would happen to his brothers and his mother if he breathed a word to anyone. Needless to say he told no-one. His life, never a simple one, grew even more difficult from that point. He felt ashamed. He felt as if he was to blame for all the bad things that were happening.
He volunteered to go into a care home for ‘maladjusted boys’ and from then on he seems to have tried his hardest to live up to all the labels given to him.
I won’t go into the details. I won’t catalogue the different homes he ran away from. Or the different types of abuse he faced from people who were in a position of trust. I won’t detail the way he was medicated to try to keep him under control. Let’s just say that life wasn’t a doddle for him.
I wanted to share this story just to remind us that we often have no idea what is happening in the lives of the children with whom we work. When they gaze vacantly into space, what are they thinking? Is it just that they are off on some imaginary adventure, that school is the most boring place in the world? Or is it that something horrendous is going on in their life at that moment.
We are at the front line and we should be vigilant. We should notice signs. What is going on with this happy go lucky child who suddenly grows pensive. Why has that placid child suddenly become aggressive?
As well as behavioural and emotional changes there are physical signs that we can watch out for, bruising, burns, ligature marks, maybe cuts where a child has self-harmed.
I know that injuries are part of growing up. Children fall over and skin their knees regularly, but alarm bells should ring if a child has injuries in areas that normally aren’t points of contact, like the insides of thighs for instance.
Schools provide Child Protection training and I think it’s essential that all TAs attend. More than that though, we should be actively watching out for the tell tale signs and reporting any concerns that we may have directly to the Child Protection Officer.
If you don’t know who that is yet…you know what to do.