What child abuse is

‘When a child is intentionally harmed by an adult or another child – it can be over a period of time but can also be a one-off action. It can be physical, sexual or emotional and it can happen in person or online. It can also be a lack of love, care and attention – this is called neglect’. – NSPCC

If you think you or someone you know is at risk of child abuse, you can get immediate help

If you are starting to have concerns about a child or young person and would like more advice, you can find guidance on our Concerned about a child webpage.

Types of abuse

There are four main types of abuse

  1. physical abuse 
  2. emotional abuse
  3. sexual abuse and exploitation
  4. neglect

Children vulnerable to abuse

Some children are more vulnerable to abuse than others:

  • disabled children
  • children whose parents or carer have alcohol or substance abuse issues
  • children in care
  • children with a history of domestic abuse
  • children with mental health problems, or a parent with mental health problems
  • children living in hard social conditions, such as poverty, isolation, or poor housing

Disabled children can be especially vulnerable to abuse. They may have impaired capacity which prevents them from resisting or avoiding danger. Speech and communication needs can also make it difficult to tell others what is happening.

Recognising abuse

The warning signs of child abuse and neglect can vary from child to child. Understanding these signs helps respond as early as possible. It is important to recognise that a warning sign doesn’t always mean a child is being abused.

Signs of abuse and neglect

Some signs that indicate abuse or neglect are:

  • behaviour changes – aggressive, disruptive, withdrawn, or clingy
  • difficulty sleeping or wetting the bed
  • ill-fitting or dirty clothes
  • poor hygiene
  • regularly tired and hungry
  • avoiding specific family members or friends, without an obvious reason
  • avoiding participation in physical activity, or changing clothes in front of others
  • having problems at school, such as a sudden lack of concentration and learning
  • mentions being left home alone, with inappropriate carers or with strangers
  • late to reach developmental milestones, such as speaking or walking, with no medical reason
  • frequent absence from school or education, often late to arrive, and with parents late to pick them up
  • reluctance to go home after school
  • parents who are dismissive and non-responsive to practitioners’ concerns
  • parents who appear drunk or on drugs when picking up their child from school
  • drinking alcohol often from an early age
  • expressing concern for younger siblings without explaining why
  • talk about running away
  • shying away from touch or flinching at sudden movement

Further information