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What To Do If You Suspect A Child Might Be Suffering From Abuse

Advice on how you can help, not hesitate...
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The topic of child abuse is a sensitive subject that most people hope never to have to deal with. And we can all understand why. It’s a difficult conversation to have, especially if you know the parents or the child involved. There’s also the fear of being wrong.

But if you have any concerns about a child, you should follow your instincts and voice those concerns, safe in the knowledge that trained professionals will continue the conversation and take the appropriate next steps. By doing so, you could make a real difference to a child’s safety and their happiness and wellbeing.

How can you recognise the signs of abuse?

If you think a child may be at risk from abuse, there are signs you can look out for, simply using ABC to spot the signs. These are frequent or sudden changes in a child’s Appearance, Behaviour and Communication.

Appearance: such as unusual injuries or consistently uncared-for appearance.

Behaviour: such as being withdrawn, overly anxious, disruptive, self-harming, or any other sudden changes in behaviour.

Communication: such as talking aggressively, using sexual language, or becoming secretive.

You can find out more, here.

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If you think it, report it

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do and whether or not to report a concern. It’s perfectly natural to have serious worries about a child’s emotional and physical wellbeing, but also worry that you could be wrong; that you could be misreading the situation and casting false suspicions of abuse.

It’s particularly difficult if the potential abuser is someone you know, maybe even a friend or family member. It’s also normal to feel uneasy about ‘getting involved’ and worry that there might even be consequences for yourself and your family.

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But reporting a concern about child abuse shouldn’t be a worry. You are alerting trained professionals to assess the situation and take a well-informed decision on what is best for the child. It could be that there are no problems, or the family do need support, which can take many forms to help the child themselves, parents, carers or the wider family.

You can report your concerns without giving your name or how you know the child. Your information is still valued and important.

At the very least voicing your concerns will put your mind at ease.

What should you do if you suspect a child may be being abused, but you’re not certain?

If you’re in a situation where you feel something is wrong, but have no evidence and the child hasn’t actually said anything to you, you can:

Talk to the child and actively listen:
Most children who are being abused find it very difficult to talk about it. If you are in a position of trust, take opportunities to chat and the child may eventually feel ready to talk.

Keep a diary:
This is a good way to keep a note of your concerns and the way a child is behaving. It can also help you to spot patterns of behaviour.

Share your concerns with the child’s school or GP:
The professionals who come into contact with the child may also have noticed unusual and unexplained behaviour.

Ask someone you trust what they think:
Talk through your worries with a trusted friend or family member, or with an NSPCC helpline counsellor. Ask them what they think about your concerns.

Report your concerns:
You don’t have to be absolutely certain abuse is happening; trust your instincts and talk to somebody who can help.

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Who should you contact if you’re concerned about a child?

You have a number of options when it comes to reporting abuse. If you prefer, you can make the report anonymously if you’re uncomfortable. You can talk to your local council, the NSPCC or the police.

Reporting your concerns could provide the missing piece of information that’s needed to keep a child safe. In some cases, a child may already have an allocated social worker and the family may already be receiving support.

What information will you need to give?

To report child abuse, you only need to provide the child’s name, their school, their address or location. But the more information you’re able to give, the better.

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What will happen after you report it?

Your concerns will be taken seriously. Trained professionals will take any information you can offer, assess the whole picture, understand the situation and decide what to do next. You should rest assured that there are many steps taken to ensure the correct decision is made.

When you contact the NSPCC helpline, for example, you will be put through to a helpline counsellor who will ask questions to assess your concerns for the child. Trained staff will then decide whether the concerns you raise warrant a referral to another agency such as children’s services or the police in order to protect the child.

When you contact your local council, social work professionals will make a decision about the type of response that is needed based on considering the information and assessing the risks facing the child, their needs and that of their family.

Where the child and family do need support, services will then work with the family to make every effort to keep the child with their family by working to address any risks. Social work is based on the principle of acting in the child’s best interests.

In extreme cases where the child is at immediate risk or a crime may have been committed, the police will be contacted.

If you or someone you know has been affected by any of the topics in this article, you can find more information and advice at the Department for Education here.