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What is abuse?

What is Child Abuse?

Child abuse is any form of physical, emotional or sexual mistreatment or lack of care that leads to injury or harm.

Abuse (also called Significant Harm) can happen to a child at any age. Abusers can be adults but not just parents or carers, abuse often occurs within a relationship of trust e.g. a teacher, carer, family friend or youth leader.

There are four types of abuse and these are Physical, Emotional, Sexual and Neglect.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is deliberately causing physical harm to a child. This might involve punching, kicking, biting, burning, scalding, shaking, throwing or beating with objects such as belts, whips, or sticks. It also includes poisoning, giving a child alcohol or illegal drugs, drowning or suffocation.

Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or carer fabricates the symptoms of illness in a child.

In pregnancy an unborn child can be harmed by domestic abuse.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is where repeated verbal threats, criticism, ridicule, shouting, lack of love and affection causes a severe adverse effect on a child's emotional development. It includes conveying to children that they are worthless, unloved, and inadequate or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person.

Emotional abuse may include not giving a child opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or 'making fun' of what they say or how they communicate.

It may feature inappropriate expectations being imposed on a child, over protection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child from taking part in normal social interaction.

It may involve seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another person. 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 ill treatment of children, or it may occur alone

Sexual Abuse

For more information on the definition, signs and indicators of sexual abuse, please follow the link to Rochdale's Safeguarding website:


Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child's basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in serious impairment of the child's health or development.

Neglect is when a parent or carer fails to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment), medical care, or protection from physical and emotional harm or danger.

It also includes failure to ensure access to education or to look after a child because the carer is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

In pregnancy neglect may occur as a result of misusing alcohol or drugs. 

How can I tell if a child is being neglected?

Some of the signs you may spot include:

  • Children crying for long periods of time

  • Young children left alone or are outdoors by themselves 

  • Children looking dirty or not changing their clothes

  • Aggressive or repeated shouting

  • Hearing hitting or things being broken

  • Children are hungry or asking for other people’s food

  • Children are living in dangerous conditions, i.e. in a house that is in a dangerous state of disrepair; around drugs, alcohol or violence

  • Children being withdrawn or anxious

  • Their parents don't seek medical treatment when they are ill or are injured

Worried about a child?

If you suspect that a child is experiencing neglect, reporting the concern may not be something you want to consider. 

Your initial reaction may be to dismiss it and just hope it's not true. But it's vital that you report your concerns if you feel a child may be suffering. If you don't report your concerns it could mean that the neglect will continue.

Whether you're the child's parent, relative, family friend, neighbour or a professional, don't let anything stop you from protecting a child.

How do I report a concern?

If you suspect that a child or young person is being neglected or is at risk of being neglected then you should report it immediately.

You will need to contact Rochdale Children's Social Care contact details or the Police 999.

Call 999 and speak to the police if you suspect a child or young person is at immediate risk of harm.

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