1. What is Child Abuse?

The warning signs and symptoms of child abuse and neglect can vary from child to child. Disabled children may be especially vulnerable to abuse, because they may have an impaired capacity to resist or avoid abuse. They may have speech, language and communication needs which may make it difficult to tell others what is happening.

By understanding the warning signs, you can respond to problems as early as possible. It is important to recognise that a warning sign doesn’t automatically mean a child is being abused.

There are a number of warning indicators which might suggest that a child may be being abused or neglected.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is defined as when someone deliberately hurts a child, such as hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning, drowning or suffocating a child deliberately and with the intention of causing harm. If a child is hurt by a relative, friend or stranger and it causes them physical harm, such as cuts, bruises, broken bones or other injuries, it is physical abuse.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse can take different forms such as when a child is unfairly blamed for everything, or told they are stupid, worthless or ugly and made to feel very sad and unhappy. Emotional abuse is severe and persistent ill treatment of a child. It can have long-lasting and devastating effects on a child’s emotional health and development. Emotional abuse may be the only form of abuse suffered by a child, or it might be an element of other child abuse and neglect.

Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse involves persuading or forcing a child to take part in sexual activities, or encouraging a child to behave in sexually inappropriate ways.

The sexual abuse of children is more than just physical sexual contact and includes sexual touching clothed or unclothed, all penetrative sex, intentionally engaging in sexual activity in front of a child and making, permitting to take, distributing and showing or advertising indecent images of children.


Neglect is where a child is not being looked after properly.  This can include not getting enough to eat or being left alone in dangerous situations.  Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic and essential needs.

Children need adequate food, water, shelter, warmth, protection and health care and they need their carers to be attentive, dependable and kind. If a child does not have a safe and stable home, this is neglect.

Child Sexual Exploitation

Child sexual exploitation is a form of sexual abuse where children are sexually exploited for money, power or status. It can involve violent, humiliating and degrading sexual assaults. In some cases, young people are persuaded or forced into exchanging sexual activity for money, drugs, gifts, affection or status.

Consent cannot be given, even where a child may believe they are voluntarily engaging in sexual activity with the person who is exploiting them. Child sexual exploitation doesn’t always involve physical contact and can happen online.

 A significant number of children who are victims of sexual exploitation go missing from home, care and education at some point.

Home Office definition February 2017:

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual
abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance
of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age
of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or
wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the
perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if
the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not
always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of

Domestic Abuse

Domestic violence/abuse is the use, attempt, or threat of violence-whether physical, emotional, sexual, mental or economic, within an intimate or family relationship. Domestic violence/abuse forms a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour.”

Domestic violence/abuse occurs across society, regardless of age, gender, race, sexuality, wealth and geography. Research shows however, that the
majority of this behaviour consists mainly of violence by men against women and it is not necessary for partners to have cohabited

Children and young people who live with domestic abuse can be at risk of behavioural problems, emotional and physical trauma, which could have long lasting effects.

Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation (sometimes referred to as female circumcision) refers to procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non- medical reasons. The practice is illegal in the UK. FGM is carried on girls usually between infancy and the age of 15, most commonly before the onset of puberty.

The girls may be taken to their country of origin so that FGM can be carried out during the summer holidays, allowing them time to heal. However some girls may have FGM carried out in the UK even though the practice is illegal.

If you are worried about someone who is at risk of FGM or has had FGM, you must share this information with social care or the police. It is then their responsibility to investigate and protect any girls or women involved.

Possible signs of abuse

Some of the following signs might be indicators of abuse or neglect:

  • Children whose behaviour changes – they may become aggressive, challenging, disruptive, withdrawn or clingy, or they might have difficulty sleeping or start wetting the bed;
  • Children with clothes which are ill-fitting and/or dirty;
  • Children with consistently poor hygiene;
  • Children who make strong efforts to avoid specific family members or friends, without an obvious reason;
  • Children who don’t want to change clothes in front of others or participate in physical activities;
  • Children who are having problems at school, for example, a sudden lack of concentration and learning or they appear to be tired and hungry;
  • Children who talk about being left home alone, with inappropriate carers or with strangers;
  • Children who reach developmental milestones, such as learning to speak or walk, late, with no medical reason;
  • Children who are regularly missing from school or education;
  • Children who are reluctant to go home after school;
  • Children with poor school attendance and punctuality, or who are consistently late being picked up;
  • Parents who are dismissive and non-responsive to practitioners’ concerns;
  • Parents who collect their children from school when drunk, or under the influence of drugs;
  • Children who drink alcohol regularly from an early age;
  • Children who are concerned for younger siblings without explaining why;
  • Children who talk about running away; and
  • Children who shy away from being touched or flinch at sudden movements

Concerned about a Child?

  • If you have a concern about a child or young person, please call the Children and Families Assessment and Intervention Team on 01225 396312 or 01225 396313.
  • If outside of office hours, please call the Emergency Duty Team on 01454 615165.
  • If a child or young person is in immediate danger then please dial 999 and ask for police assistance. 

The Local Authority Designated Officer for managing allegations or safeguarding concerns against staff can be contacted on 01225 396810 Monday – Friday in office hours.