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What is abuse?

Neglect

Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic and /or psychological needs which impairs their health or development. It may involve failing to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, protection from harm or danger, inadequate supervision or failure or delay in accessing medical care or treatment. It can also occur during pregnancy. Some indicators of neglect could be:

  • being frequently hungry and tired
  • being left unsupervised or alone for periods of time inappropriate to the child’s age and/ or understanding
  • inappropriate standards of personal hygiene
  • clothing that is unclean, under or oversized or inappropriate for weather conditions
  • untreated illnesses, infected cuts or other physical complaints not responded to by the carer
  • nutritional neglect through under or over eating

Physical abuse

Physical abuse may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning or suffocating, or otherwise causing physical harm to a child. The use of belts, sticks and other objects to administer discipline is also considered physical abuse. Physical harm may also be caused when a parents or carer fabricates the symptoms or deliberately induces illness in a child. Some indicators of physical abuse could be:

  • injuries not consistent with the explanation given for them or the extent of the injury is inconsistent with the explanation given
  • a weapon has been used, for example a belt
  • injuries to the body in places that are not normally exposed to falls etc
  • there has been a delay in reporting the accident or getting treatment

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. It may involve physical contact including penetration (eg rape, oral sex) or non penetration (eg masturbation). It may also include involving children looking at or the production of sexual images, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways or grooming the child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet). Some indicators of sexual abuse could be:

  • any allegation made by a child concerning sexual abuse
  • a child with an excessive preoccupation with sexual matters and an age inappropriate knowledge of adult sexual behaviour, or who engages in age inappropriate sexual play
  • physical signs
  • severe sleep disturbances with fears, phobias, nightmares
  • self harming behaviour

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development. It may involve conveying to children that they are unloved, worthless, inadequate or valued insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may include not giving the child the opportunity to express their views, deliberately silencing them or ‘making fun’ of what they say or how they communicate. Any treatment that significantly harms the emotional well-being of a child, such as not making them feel loved or valued. It may include putting inappropriate expectations on a child that are over and above their capabilities and age. It may include overprotection and the limitation of exploration and learning or preventing the child participating in normal social contact. It may involve seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another. It may involve serious bullying (including cyberbullying), causing children to frequently feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation of corruption of children. Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of harm to a child, although it may occur alone. Some indicators of emotional abuse could be:

  • excessive clingy or attention seeking behaviour
  • sudden underachievement or lack of concentration
  • changes in mood of behaviour e.g. fearfulness, withdrawn, depression, aggression, anxiety
  • very low self esteem, excessive self criticism
  • extreme shyness or passivity
  • seeking adult attention, not mixing well with other children