Navigation
Home Page

2. Types of abuse and possible indicators

Abuse and neglect are forms of maltreatment of a child. Somebody may abuse or neglect a child by inflicting harm, or by failing to act to prevent harm. Children may be abused in a family or in an institutional or community setting; by those known to them or, more rarely, by a stranger e.g. via the internet. An adult or adults, child or children may cause the abuse.

 

Where a child is disabled, injuries or behavioural symptoms may mistakenly be attributed to his/her disability rather than the abuse. Similarly, where a child is black or from a minority ethnic group, aggressive behaviour, emotional and behavioural problems and educational difficulties may be wrongly attributed to racial stereotypes, rather than abuse. Cultural and religious beliefs should not be used to justify hurting a child.

 

 

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse my involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating, or otherwise causing physical harm to a child. Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or carer fabricates the symptoms of, or deliberately induces illness in a child[1].

 

Physical abuse can happen in any family, but children may be more at risk if their parents have problems with drugs, alcohol and mental health or they live in a home where domestic abuse happens[2]. Babies and disabled children also have a higher risk of suffering physical abuse.

 

Some of the following signs may be indicators of physical abuse:

 

  • Children with frequent injuries;
  • Children with unexplained or unusual fractures or broken bones; and
  • Children with unexplained;
  • Bruises or cuts;
  • Burns or scalds; or
  • Bite marks[3].

 

 

 

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 worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued in so far as they meet the needs of another person. It may include not giving the child opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or 'making fun' of what they say or how they communicate. It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. These may include interactions that are beyond the child's developmental capacity, as well as over protection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child participating in normal social interaction. It may involve seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another. It may involve serious bullying (including cyberbullying) causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children. Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, though it may occur alone.

 

Although the effects of emotional abuse might take a long time to be recognisable, practitioners will be in a position to observe it, for example in the way that a parent interacts with their child.

 

Some of the following signs may be indicators of emotional abuse:

 

  • Children  who are excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong;
  • Parents or carers who withdraw their attention form their child, giving the child the ‘cold shoulder’;
  • Parents or carers blaming their problems on their child; and
  • Parents or carers who humiliate their child, for example, by name-calling or making negative comparisons.

 

 

 

Sexual Abuse (and exploitation)

Sexual abuse is any sexual activity with a child. Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in a sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet). Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children.

 

Many children who are victims of sexual abuse do not recognise themselves as such; they may not understand what is happening and my not understand that it is wrong.

 

Some of the following signs may be indicators of sexual abuse:

 

  • Children who display knowledge or interest in sexual acts inappropriate to their age;
  • Children who use sexual language or have sexual knowledge that you wouldn’t expect them to have;
  • Children who ask others to behave sexually or play sexual games; and
  • Children with physical sexual health problems, including soreness in the genital or anal areas, sexually transmitted infections or underage pregnancy.

 

 

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 (CSE) doesn’t always involve physical contact and can happen on-line. A significant number of people who are victims of sexual exploitation go missing from home, care and education at some point.

 

Some of the following signs may be indicators of sexual exploitation:

 

  • Children who appear with unexplained gifts or new possessions;
  • Children who associate with other young people involved in exploitation;
  • Children who have older boyfriends or girlfriends;
  • Children who suffer from sexually transmitted infections or become pregnant;
  • Children who suffer from changes in emotional well-being;
  • Children who misuse drugs and alcohol;
  • Children who go missing for periods of time or regularly come home late; and
  • Children who regularly miss school or education or don’t take part in education.

 

 

 

Neglect

Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child's basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child's health or development. Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse. Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to:

  • Provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment)
  • Protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger
  • Ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate care givers)
  • Ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment

 

It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child's basic emotional needs.

 

Children who are neglected often also suffer from other types of abuse. It is important that practitioners remain alert and do not miss opportunities to take timely action. However, while you may be concerned about a child, neglect is not always straightforward to identify.

 

Neglect may occur if a parent becomes physically or mentally unable to care for a child. A parent may also have a dependency on alcohol and/or drugs, which could impair their ability to keep a child safe or result in them prioritising buying drugs, or alcohol, over food, clothing or warmth for the child.

 

Some of the following signs may be indicators of neglect:

 

  • Children who are living in a home that is indisputably dirty or unsafe;
  • Children who are left hungry or dirty;
  • Children who are left without adequate clothing, e.g. not having a winter coat;
  • Children who are living in dangerous conditions, i.e. around drugs, alcohol or violence;
  • Children who are often angry, aggressive or self-harm;
  • Children who fail to receive basic health care; and
  • Parents who fail to seek medical treatment when their children are ill or are injured.

 

 

 
 

[1] HM Government (March 2015) Working Together to Safeguard Children, page 92

[2] Brandon et al., (2010) Building on the learning from Serious Case Reviews: A two year analysis of child protection database notifications 2007-2009, Department for Education, 2010

[3] HM Government (March 2015) What to do if you’re worried a child is being abuse: advice for practitioners

Top