You have written in asking what to do, but you know what to do. All teachers know what to do under these circumstances. The procedures in relation to suspected child abuse are precisely and clearly set out.
What you are asking for is permission to believe what your eyes are telling you. But leave the question of the pupil's family aside, and think about it. You say the girl has some signs of physical abuse. You don't say what these are, but they must be more than the occasional bumped knee to have attracted your attention. You also say she is vague about how she got these marks and bruises, and that she is sometimes "dreamy" in class. Something is clearly not right, and you know it. It may be that someone is doing something nasty to her at home and the dreaminess is her way of protectively disassociating herself from it. Or there may be some other problem she is dealing with. There could even be an innocent explanation for it all.
But despite your reluctance to start pointing a finger at a family that sounds like the model of civic propriety, you must raise your concerns with your school's designated child protection officer immediately. Plenty of horrible things happen behind respectable front doors. Not all cases of child abuse occur in fractured and chaotic families, and your job is to protect your pupil, not the reputation of her parents, however high their standing might be in the community.
Please don't hesitate to invoke the child protection staff at your school. The child could be feigning not being unhappy, and seeming dreamy could be a sign of zoning out, to cope with her unhappiness, particularly as her parents are seen as pillars of the community. So she may have a belief that she will not be believed. This query made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Act now. "Respectable" parents abuse their children too.
Ruth Muirhead, Newport
You must refer the child to your school's designated child protection officer without delay. He or she will be aware of the statutory advice on what constitutes suspicious injuries and can also advise you about how you question a child, as it is important not to "lead" pupils – this could seriously weaken a disclosure of abuse. If in doubt, report your concerns. Any decision about further action will thankfully be taken by experts.
Karen Shaw, West Sussex
You should follow your child protection policy which will state that concerns should be reported to your named child protection officer. You then leave the matter up to them. It is not for you to decide whether a family is likely or not to have abused their child. I would also suggest that you ask for staff training on child protection so that all staff are aware of why and how they should react.
Laura Dagnall, Poole
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