What to do if you suspect abuse

Steps you can take to help keep a child safe, and what to do if you suspect a child's been abused

Abuse is one of the very worst things that can ever happen to a child. But it's not always easy to pick up the signs. And a child might not even know that what's happening is wrong.

You might have noticed bruises on a child that seem concerning, but you're not sure they're being abused. Or, you might be worried a child is being neglected because you often hear them crying in distress.

By being prepared, and knowing what help is available, you can make a real difference to a child's safety and wellbeing. Below you can find support and advice on what to do if you think a child's being abused.

Take action

If you're worried about a child, even if you're unsure, contact our professional counsellors 24/7 for help, advice and support.

Call us on 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk 

What to do if you're not sure

If you're in a situation where you suspect abuse of a child but they haven't actually said anything to you, there are a number of steps you can take.

  • Continue to talk to the child
  • Most children who are being abused find it very difficult to talk about it. By having ongoing conversations, the time may come when they're ready to talk.
  • Keep a diary
  • This is a good way to keep a note of your concerns and the way your child is behaving. It can also help to spot patterns of behaviour.
  • Talk to the child's teacher or health visitor
  • The professionals who come into contact with the child may also have noticed them acting unusually.
  • Get someone else's perspective
  • Talk about your worries with a trusted friend or family member or with an NSPCC helpline counsellor. Ask what they think about your concerns.
  • Talk through your worries
  • You can also report your worries to our helpline on 0808 800 5000. You don't have to give your name if you'd prefer to remain anonymous.

If you suspect that someone is abusing a child, reporting the abuse may not be something you want to consider. Especially if the alleged abuser is a friend or family member.

Your initial reaction may be to dismiss it or try to prove it's not true. But it's vital that you report your concerns if you feel a child's in danger. By not reporting your concerns it could mean that the abuse will continue.

Don't let anything stop you from protecting a child

There are many reasons why adults don't report their concerns when they're worried about a child. But children need someone to speak up for them to help them.

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

Regardless of how you know the child, if you see or hear something that worries you it’s always good to trust your instinct and talk to somebody about it. You might be the only one who acts.

Contact the NSPCC helpline where you can discuss your concerns with a helpline counsellor. You don’t need to say who you are but you can talk about your worries and a helpline counsellor can advise what they think should happen next. 

If we decide a child may be at risk or in need of additional support, the helpline counsellor will ask you for the child’s details. You can decide if you are willing to provide this information so that they can act on your behalf by sharing the information with the appropriate agency such as children’s services (also known as social services or children’s social care).

Remember the helpline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is free to call from landlines and most mobile networks.

Don’t wait until you’re certain. If you’re not sure, run it by one of our helpline counsellors.

A counsellor can assess the situation and advise you further. You might be wrong but you could be right and sharing your concerns can help to keep the child safe.

Put your mind at ease. Contact the NSPCC helpline.

When you contact the NSPCC helpline, you do not need to say who you are or how you know the child of concern, if you do not wish to.

If you do provide information that may identify you, we may need to pass this on to children's services. But we would always ask them not to share it with the alleged abuser or the family.

When you contact the NSPCC helpline you will be put through to a helpline counsellor who will ask questions to assess your concerns for the child.

The counsellor will decide whether the concerns warrant a referral to another agency such as children’s services or the police in order to protect the child.

Children’s services and the police will assess if the child is at immediate risk of significant harm or in need.

In most cases the child and family of concern need support. Services will work with the family, not against them. Unless the level of risk requires the courts to get involved immediately, care proceedings will only start after extensive efforts are made to keep the child with their family by working with them to address any risks.

Find out more information on care proceedings in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In some cases a child may be known to services (such as children’s services) and have an allocated social worker.

If you feel the situation isn’t improving or you believe the social worker is not aware of the full concerns, contact the local authority children’s services directly or report your worries to the NSPCC helpline.

The additional information could make all the difference in protecting a child.

Reasons a child keeps abuse secret

Coping with abuse and its effects is very difficult for children and it's also hard for them to talk about it.

Depending on their age and maturity they might simply not understand what is happening to them or have the words to describe it. They may also be very aware that there will be consequences if they decide to speak out. For example, they might be afraid of the abuser finding out and worried that the abuse will get worse.

They may also feel that there is no one that they can tell, or that they won't be believed.

In some cases, children don't even realise that they've been abused and may believe that what they've experienced is quite normal. Those who do know that what has happened to them is wrong might be too ashamed to reveal it.