How to spot signs of abuse
Abuse is an incredibly difficult and sensitive subject for any parent to deal with, regardless of the nature of the abuse or who the perpetrator is. It has a huge impact on families and has repercussions that can surface in both the long- and short-term. Abused children can show signs of distress in many ways, some of them obvious and dramatic, some of them subtle and difficult to detect. Spotting the signs is really important so that you can help your child and find the right support.
Signs of physical abuse include:
Being wary of adults, unable to play, being aggressive or abusive, bullied by other children or the bully themselves, unable to concentrate or achieve at school, lying and stealing.
Signs of sexual abuse include:
Behaving differently all of a sudden, thinking badly of themselves, not looking after themselves, using sexual ideas or talk in their play, starting to wet or soil, underachieving at school, behaving flirtatiously, being fearful of physical contact, becoming depressed, self-harming, running away.
Signs of emotional abuse or neglect include:
Being slow to learn to walk and talk, being very passive, having feeding problems, having difficulty in developing close relationships, getting on badly with peers, being unable to play imaginatively, having a poor self-image, doing badly at school.
How can I help my child?
These are things that can really make a difference:
- First and foremost, your child must be protected from any further abuse. Listen to your child and accept what they are telling you. Do not let assumptions or prejudices stop you from believing they are telling the truth.
- Children who have suffered serious abuse or neglect can be difficult to care for and parents/carers may need additional support - so don't be afraid to ask for help.
- When child abuse has happened, or is still happening, social services will need to be involved to find out what has happened, if it is likely to happen again and what steps are needed to protect the child. Speak to your local Social Services Child Protection Adviser for advice. Anyone can contact social services with a concern; it does not need to be a professional.
- After investigation, social services will arrange a child protection case conference if they are concerned that a child is being harmed. A plan will be made to ensure there is no further harm.
- Occasionally a child may have to be taken away from the abusing adult because the risks of physical or emotional harm are too great. This can be for a short time until things become safer, or permanently.
- Many children will need specialist treatment due to the abuse they have endured. Help may be provided through social service family centres or your local CAMHS, and may involve working with your whole family, with your child alone or in groups.
- Individual therapy can be especially helpful for children who have been sexually abused or who have suffered severe trauma.
Where can I get help?
- Call 999 if there is an emergency, such as when abuse is in progress, someone suspected of a crime is nearby, when there is danger to life or when violence is being used or threatened.
- Emergency services text phone number is 18000 if you are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech impairment
- Call 101, the non-emergency line - to report a crime like abuse, or suspected abuse.
- The non-emergency text phone number is 18001 101 if you are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech impairment.
- For adults concerned about the safety of a child.
- Freephone 24 hour helpline: 0808 800 5000
- Text: 88858
- Email: [email protected] or fill out their online form.
- There is a webcam BSL option on their website for anyone who is deaf or hard of hearing.
- Free NSPCC booklet: What can I do? Protecting your child from sexual abuse
- Helpline for adults unsure or worried about their own inappropriate sexual thoughts or behaviour towards children, or the behaviour of someone they know (adults or children).
- They also advise professionals.
- Freephone helpline: 0808 1000 900 (Mon - Thurs 09:00-21:00, and Fri 09:00-17:00)
- Email: [email protected]
- Pace works alongside parents and carers of children who are – or are at risk of being – sexually exploited by perpetrators external to the family.
- They offer guidance and training to professionals on how child sexual exploitation affects the whole family.
- Call: 0113 240 5226 and leave a message for a professional call-back.
- Email via their enquiry form
- Supports non-abusing parents and carers, whose children have been sexually abused. They offer advocacy, training, support groups and advice sessions.
- Freephone (from landlines) helpline: 0800 980 1958
- If you can afford to pay for the call, MOSAC asks you to ring 020 8293 9990
- Email: [email protected]
- Advice for families whose children are involved with, or need, children’s services because of welfare needs or concerns
- Freephone helpline: 0808 801 0366 (Mon-Fri 09:30 – 15:00) Check your mobile network. Interpreters can be arranged.
- Textphone: Dial 18001 and then 0808 801 0366
Other helpful organisations
- National charity working to end domestic violence against women and children.
- Provides free legal advice and information on all aspects of English law and policy affecting children, families, carers and professionals.
- Support for girls and women who have experienced rape, sexual violence and childhood sexual abuse, including finding your local rape crisis centre.
- Free and confidential help to victims of crime, witnesses, their family, friends and anyone else affected across England and Wales.