Child abuse can take a range of different forms. A child being mistreated or abused (sometimes called ‘Significant Harm') can be defined as physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse or neglect.

Child abuse can occur in a child’s home, or in the organisations, schools or communities the child interacts with. If you are worried about a child or need advice about any form of child abuse, contact the NSPCC helpline or the Devon customer service centre telephone on 0345 155 1071

There are four major categories of child abuse:

Physical abuse is defined as when someone deliberately hurts a child, such as hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning, drowning or suffocating a child deliberately and with the intention of causing harm.

If a child is hurt by a relative, friend or stranger and it causes them physical harm, such as cuts, bruises, broken bones or other injuries, it is physical abuse.

Emotional abuse can take different forms such as when a child is unfairly blamed for everything, or told they are stupid, worthless or ugly and made to feel very sad and unhappy. Emotional abuse is severe and persistent ill treatment of a child. It can have long-lasting and devastating effects on a child’s emotional health and development.

Emotional abuse may be the only form of abuse suffered by a child, or it might be an element of other child abuse and neglect.

Child sexual abuse involves persuading or forcing a child to take part in sexual activities, or encouraging a child to behave in sexually inappropriate ways.

The sexual abuse of children is more than just physical sexual contact and includes sexual touching clothed or unclothed, all penetrative sex, intentionally engaging in sexual activity in front of a child and making, permitting to take, distributing and showing or advertising indecent images of children. Please also refer to Child Sexual Exploitation.

Neglect is where a child is not being looked after properly. This can include not getting enough to eat or being left alone in dangerous situations. Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic and essential needs.

Children need adequate food, water, shelter, warmth, protection and health care and they need their carers to be attentive, dependable and kind. If a child does not have a safe and stable home, this is neglect.

There are many signs that may indicate neglect; if your common sense and instincts tell you that something is wrong then you should take action.

Children may be neglected because they come from disadvantaged backgrounds, although most children from such backgrounds are well-cared-for. A child’s circumstances may also make them more vulnerable to neglect, such as children who are in care or seeking asylum.

Neglect can have a debilitating and long-lasting effect on a child’s physical wellbeing, and on their mental, emotional and behavioural development. In some cases the effects can cause permanent disabilities and, in severe cases death.

If you think a child is in immediate danger, contact the police on 999, or call the Torbay Safeguarding Hub on 01803 208100, or the Devon MASH on 0345 155 1071 without delay.

Deciding if a child is neglected can be very hard – even for a trained worker – and the Devon and Torbay Safeguarding Children Boards have adopted a tool ‘The Graded Care Profile (GCP)’ to assess neglect. 

Download this poster by the TSCB to raise awareness of neglect in your workplace.