If you're worried a child is being abused or neglected
It's not always easy to know if a child or young person is being abused or neglect. You might've noticed bruises but aren't sure if they're from playing or from being physically abused. A child might start wetting the bed but you don't know if it's a minor setback in their development or if they're being abused. Or you might be worried a child is being neglected because you often hear them crying in distress.
Knowing the signs of abuse can help. But it's important to remember that every child is different. Our support and advice can help you decide what to do if you're worried about a child.
What you can do if you're not sure
If you think a child might be being abused but they haven't said anything to you, there are things you can do which can help.
- Talk to the child
Most children who're being abused find it very difficult to talk about. Or might not have somebody in their life they trust. Keep talking to them to help build a positive, trusting relationship. They may come to you when they're ready to talk.
- Keep a diary
Keeping note of your concerns and how the child is behaving can help you spot patterns of behaviour and keep a track of what's been happening.
- Talk to their teacher or health visitor
They may have spotted signs or noticed they're acting differently.
- Speak to other people
Talking about your worries with someone you trust will help you get someone else's perspective. Sharing your concerns may help you feel more confident about taking the next steps.
- Talk to us
Our helpline counsellors are here to listen to your concerns and offer support and advice. You can contact us anonymously if it makes you feel more comfortable.
Why it's important to report child abuse and neglect
There are lots of reasons why you might not want to report your concerns. You might be worried you're wrong. Or you don't want to get a friend or family member in trouble. You might be scared or worried you won't be believed.
But if you don't share your concerns, you risk a child being in danger and continuing being abused. By reporting it, you're taking the first step to helping keep them safe and getting the support they need. Every child and young person deserves to be safe.
You don't have to be certain, you don't have to know for sure. Speak to our helpline counsellors and share your concerns – they'll offer advice, take the next steps if they need to and help put your mind at ease.
Sometimes a child might already be known to services, like children's services, and have an allocated social worker. If you're worried a situation isn't getting better or the social worker isn't aware of everything going on, you can contact the local authority children's services or speak to our helpline. Any additional information could make all the difference in protecting a child.
Why children might not tell someone they're being abused
There are lots of reasons why children and young people might keep abuse a secret.
They might not understand what's happening to them is wrong or remember a time when the abuse wasn't happening. The abuse might be "normalised" by their abuser or they may not have the words to describe it. If a child doesn't have the language skills – because they're too young, have a disability or English isn't their first language – they need someone else to speak up for them.
Sometimes they might know what's happening to them is wrong but not tell someone. They might be afraid their abuser will find out, worried the abuse will get worse or may feel ashamed. They might feel there's no-one they can tell or they won't be believed.
They may also have told someone and no action was taken to protect them.
"I told my teachers more than once what was happening at home. It took years for someone to take action. And even when services became involved, the abuse continued for the rest of my childhood. I still find it upsetting that nobody spoke up."
Rupa / NSPCC staff
That's why it's everyone's responsibility to speak up for children. Whether you're the child's parent, relative, family friend, neighbour or a professional, don't let anything stop you from protecting a child.
If you're worried about a child, even if you're unsure, you can speak to us about your concerns. We're here to listen, offer advice and support and can take the next steps if a child's in danger.
Our telephone lines are open Monday to Friday 8am – 10pm and 9am – 6pm at the weekend. You can contact us online 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
It's normal to feel anxious, nervous or unsure about getting in touch with us. We're here to help and take that worry from you. Letting us know you're worried about a child could be the first step to helping protect them from a lifetime of abuse and neglect.