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What is a body map?

A body map is an essential resource that should form part of an institution’s child protection and safeguarding toolkit. Its function falls primarily within child protection and a body map is used to record physical injuries inflicted on a child or young person.

Body maps are usually available in paper form only, and, at their most basic, they provide an outline drawing of a generic child’s body. For disclosures that include aspects of physical abuse, when completed accurately, body maps prove an invaluable record of the dates and appearance of visible injuries and marks of concern. Professionals can use the data they contain to track and monitor injuries over time.

Children are often not aware they are being abused, so we all have a duty to be vigilant. This is particularly true if:

  • The locations or types of injuries are questionable.
  • There seems to be a pattern of injuries a child sustains that is beyond the usual rough and tumble of childhood.
  • When asked about an injury, a child or parent’s explanation is confusing, changes, or just doesn’t quite add up.
  • A child’s body language becomes uncomfortable or they seem anxious when asked about marks or wounds.
Designated safeguard leads of school discussing possible cases

Bear in mind that when children are injured in accidental circumstances, tend to be more than happy to discuss the full and gory details.

Section 1: The details of individuals

  • The full name of the child.
  • The child’s date of birth (if known).
  • The full name of the person completing the form.
  • Their contact details (telephone number and email address).
  • The full name of the person providing the account (if different from above).
  • The date and time that the injuries were first noticed and disclosed.
  • The date and time the information was recorded (if different).

Section 2: The body map

  • A line drawing of the front and back of a generic child’s body.
  • Outline drawings of a child’s hands: right and left hand, viewed from both the front and back.
  • Enlarged outline sketches of the head viewed from the front, behind, right, left and above.
  • Some child protection body maps also include the soles and sides of both feet.
  • In Early Years settings, it is customary to include the body outlines of a young baby.
  • A key used to label the main types of injury.
  • Space to provide a full and detailed description of all visible marks or bruises, etc.

Section 3: Detailed notes

  • The child’s account of how the injuries were sustained.
  • The parent or other adult’s account of how the injuries were sustained (if appropriate).
  • Actions taken, dated with times.
  • Details of the people who need to be informed.
  • The signature of the person completing the form and, if applicable, the person reporting the injuries, both dated with times.

A scaled image of a tape measure along one side of the proforma can prove invaluable when measuring and detailing observed injuries.

 Injuries key

It is good practice to adopt a system that easily indicates the nature of each injury recorded on a body map. Some institutions use colours or stickers, but the reliance on such resources needing to be available at the crucial moment can make this approach problematic. A letter-based system is generally much more straightforward and easier to remember and administer.

For example:

Code Injury
A Swelling or inflammation
B Bruising
C Cuts and grazes
D Burns and scalding
E Redness/Soreness
F Scabs and blisters
G Area of reported pain with no visible signs
H Other

Before completing the paperwork

  • If the child is in immediate danger, call 999 without delay.
  • Seek urgent medical care or first aid if required.
  • Inform the designated safeguarding lead (DSL) as soon as possible.
Upset teacher sat outside classroom after completing a body map and paperwork

Completing the child protection body map

IMPORTANT — Do not take photographs of a child’s injuries and do not ask to see any injuries that are covered by clothing.

A child’s injuries can change quickly, so it is essential to record information as soon as possible.

Here are some valuable points to consider when completing the body map:

  • Seek the child’s consent, adapting your explanation appropriately to fit the circumstances.
  • You should also seek the consent of a parent or guardian. If you are uncomfortable with this for any reason, discuss the circumstances with the DSL. If you are the DSL, seek advice from the local authority’s children’s services.
  • Try to ensure that another adult is present during the assessment. It works particularly well when one adult notates while the other asks questions.
  • Do not use a pencil to complete the form. Use black ink throughout, and do not use any form of white-out if a mistake is made. Strike the error through with a single, straight line.
  • Draw each visible injury on as close to what you see as possible.
  • Label each one using the appropriate key. If a child has sustained multiple injuries, add numeric references — for example, A1, A2, etc.
  • Add a detailed written description of each visible injury.
  • Where possible, include:
    – Measurements and dimensions.
    – Colour
    – The presence of any foreign bodies, such as grit or fluff.
    – Any additional information.
  • When making notes, try to use the child’s own words whenever possible and make appropriate use of quotation marks.
  • If a child has disclosed injuries that are covered by clothing, ask them to describe the injuries. Explain that you do not need to see them to be able to make a note of them.
  • Only describe what you can see or relay what you have been told. Do not suggest or infer anything.
  • Only ask open-ended questions. For example:- “Can you tell me what happened to your arm?” Not: “Did your brother use a cigarette to make those burn marks on your arm?”
  • Do not forget to sign and date the form once complete. If another adult was present, they should also sign and date the form.

Child protection

At the beginning of this entry, we mentioned that completing a body map has a child protection function. What does that mean? Is it not a significant part of safeguarding?

For all of the training delivered, both as part of the legal requirements contained within the statutory guidance Keeping Children Safe in Education 2020 and as part of the broader awareness of the need to ensure all people who potentially come into contact with children have a thorough understanding of their responsibilities, the most common confusion remains: What is the difference between ‘safeguarding’ and ‘child protection’?

It is actually fairly straight forward:

Safeguarding concerns everything we put in place and do to help keep children from harm. To safeguard them, if you will.

Child Protection concerns everything that happens and is put in place once a child is known to have been harmed, or it is suspected that they are vulnerable to potential harm. Therefore, completing a body map is generally included as a child protection measure.

Safeguarding – concerns everything we put in place and do to help keep children from harm. To safeguard them, if you will.

Child Protection – concerns everything that happens and is put in place once a child is known to have been harmed, or it is suspected that they are vulnerable to potential harm. Therefore, completing a body map is generally included as a child protection measure.

For further details, take a look at our guide.

Teacher sat supporting child who is struggling emotionally

Types of abuse

According to the Office for National Statistics, as of 31 March 2019, ‘49,750 children in England and 4,810 children in Wales were looked after by their local authority because of the experience or risk of abuse or neglect.’ And in the year ending March 2019, ‘Childline delivered 19,847 counselling sessions to children in the UK where abuse was the primary concern; around 1 in 20 of the sessions resulted in a referral to external agencies.’

With data like these, practitioners across all related disciplines must play their part in understanding, identifying and supporting children subjected to or exposed to any form of abuse.

In the UK, we define abuse using four umbrella terms:

  • Physical abuse.
  • Emotional abuse.
  • Sexual abuse.
  • Neglect.

Abuse that involves body mapping can naively be thought required only within the physical abuse category. Consider, however, where disclosures and situations are not always so easy to pigeonhole. There will be plenty of cases where there is an overlap of two or more areas of abuse.

It is easy to see how sexual abuse can easily sit alongside physical abuse outcomes related to control or exertions of power that might form part and parcel of a child’s experience (bruising to the arms, for example). But, also consider the case of an emotionally abused teenager who is self-harming as a result. Or the potential damage to a child’s feet through wearing shoes they have long since outgrown.

Whatever reasons are behind the injuries sustained by a child, once medical attention has been sought (if necessary), of primary importance, is accurately marking all visible marks and wounds, no matter how small they might be.

Of course, accidents do happen, and children experience bumps and bruises as part of routine life. It is essential to be aware of the potential differences between accidental injuries and non-accidental injuries. It is perfectly natural for a child growing up to experience unintentional injuries from time to time. These tend to occur in places where a child might break a fall. Knees, shins, hands, elbows and even their forehead are all classic areas prone to accidental injury.

The areas detailed below, if injured, are considered red flags for potential non-accidental harm or abuse, and advice should always be sought if these are observed:

  • The cheeks, ears, sides of the face and neck (accidental injury in these areas would be considered unusual).
  • The forearms.
  • The chest.
  • The soles of the feet.
  • The inner thighs.
  • The groin or genitals.
  • The ‘insides’ of the arms
  • Black eyes.

Please note that smacking is regarded as physical abuse if it results in injury to the child or if any implement has been used as part of the process.

The above is certainly not an exhaustive list, but you must be aware of these particular areas of concern. The NSPCC has a fantastic series of core info leaflets that cover the key injury types and help you identify those more likely to be non-accidental.

 What to do after filling in a body map

After completing a body map, you must follow your institution’s related procedure. It will most likely be required to go to the DSL. Don’t forget that these contain highly personal and confidential information. You must not share the content with anyone other than assigned professionals, and under no circumstances should you keep a copy yourself.

If you are concerned that a raised concern has not been followed up appropriately or promptly, you have a legal responsibility to chase it up. In the first instance, check with the DSL. It is often the case that a lot has happened, and due to the nature of the situation, you would not be privy to any further detail. That said, you can expect reassurance that a situation has been dealt with appropriately if you ask. If you still have concerns a case is not being treated seriously, you should raise it with the headteacher or your local authority children’s services directly.

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About the author

Paul Cozens

Paul Cozens

Paul graduated with a BA in Education with music and French and has had a varied carrier in prep and junior schools. When he has a moment, you’ll find him involved in amateur musical theatre, learning a new language or exploring new corners of his home city, London.



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