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Child protection: preventing abuse

What is child abuse?

Child abuse falls into one or more of four categories: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect.

What you should do if you think a child is being abused 

If you are worried child might be being abused and you want to talk to someone, you should contact the Children’s Services Department.

During office hours (8.30am – 5:00pm) phone Children's Services: 0300 603 5620 At any other times you should contact the out-of-hours Service: 0300 600 4555

If this line is engaged you will be put through to an answerphone. Leave your name and number and Children's Services will call you back as quickly as possible.
For all emergency situations call 999.

If you think a child or young person under the age of 18 has been or is being abused by a person in a position of trust, contact the County Council's Allegations Officer

Definition: Physical abuse

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

Definition: Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse is "the persistent emotional ill treatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent effects on the child’s emotional development" and may involve:

  • Conveying to a child that he or she is worthless, unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as s/he meets the needs of another person
  • Imposing developmentally inappropriate expectations e.g. interactions beyond the child’s developmental capability, overprotection, limitation of exploration and learning, preventing the child from participation in normal social interaction
  • Causing a child to feel frightened or in danger e.g. witnessing domestic violence, seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another
  • Exploitation or corruption of a child 
  • Some level of emotional abuse is involved in most types of ill treatment of children, though emotional abuse may occur alone. 

Definition: Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child to take part in sexual activities, including prostitution, whether or not he or she is aware of what is happening. 

Activities may involve physical contact, including penetrative and non-penetrative acts. ‘Penetrative acts’ include rape (forced penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth with a penis) and ‘assault by penetration’ (sexual penetration of vagina or anus of a child with a part of the body or an object).

Sexual activities may also include non-contact activities, e.g. involving a child in looking at, or the production of abusive images, watching sexual activities or encouraging her/him to behave in sexually inappropriate ways.

It may include use of photos, pictures, cartoons, literature or sound recordings via internet, books, magazines, audio cassettes, tapes or CDs.

Children under 16 cannot lawfully consent to sexual intercourse, although in practice may be involved in sexual contact to which, as individuals, they have agreed.

In law, a child under 13 is considered incapable of providing consent.

Definition: Neglect

Neglect involves 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 and development.

Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance misuse. Once the child is born, neglect may involve failure to:

  • Provide adequate food, clothing or shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment)
  • Protect from physical and emotional harm or danger
  • Meet or respond to basic emotional needs
  • Ensure adequate supervision including the use of adequate care-takers
  • Ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment * Ensure that her/his educational needs are met
  • Ensure his/her opportunities for intellectual stimulation are met 
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