Child abuse is the term used when a child or a young person under the age of 18 is harmed.

There are four main kinds of abuse, all of which can cause long-term damage to a child.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse is when a child is hurt or injured by a child or an adult.

Physical abuse includes:

  • Hitting
  • Kicking
  • Punching
  • Other ways of inflicting pain or injury such as poisoning, drowning or smothering.

It also includes giving a child harmful drugs or alcohol.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse is when adults deny children love or affection, or constantly threaten or humiliate them.

Sarcasm, degrading punishments and ignoring a child are also forms of emotional abuse and undermine a child's confidence and sense of self-worth.


Neglect is when a child's basic need for love, food, warmth, safety, education and medical attention is not met by parents or carers.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is when a child is abused sexually by an adult or young person.

Sexual abuse can include kissing, touching the child's genitals or breasts, vaginal or anal intercourse and oral sex.

Encouraging a child to look at pornographic magazines or videos is also sexual abuse.

Bullying, racism and other types of discrimination are also forms of child abuse.

Online safety

Abuse can occur on the internet and other forms of technology like mobile phones.

Children are at risk of cyberbullying, being scammed for information, or groomed.

What should you look out for? 

Some common signs that there may be something concerning happening in a child’s life include: 

  • Unexplained changes in behaviour or personality 
  • Becoming withdrawn 
  • Seeming anxious 
  • Becoming uncharacteristically aggressive 
  • Lacks social skills and has few friends, if any 
  • Poor bond or relationship with a parent 
  • Knowledge of adult issues inappropriate for their age 
  • Running away or going missing 
  • Always choosing to wear clothes which cover their body. 

These signs don’t necessarily mean that a child is being abused, there could be other things happening in their life which are affecting their behaviour – but we can help you to assess the situation. 

You may also notice some concerning behaviour from adults who you know have children in their care, which makes you concerned for the child/children’s safety and wellbeing. 

Report child abuse

If you suspect a child or young person is being abused you can help make it stop by making a child protection referral.

Report child abuse