How to spot and report signs of abuse in children


Today’s post is a difficult one. As a teacher, I receive a lot of training on safeguarding children, specifically on spotting signs of abuse and the steps we should take if we have concerns. However,most of us don’t work in schools or other settings where we receive regular safeguarding training. And new research shows that 3 in 10 of us aren’t confident in spotting the signs of child abuse.


What might child abuse look like?

It might be another parent who gets in the car with a child, even though they are under the influence of alcohol.

It might be a dirty, unkempt child in your neighbourhood who you think might be being neglected.

It might be one of your children’s friends making overtly sexual comments.

It might be bruises.

The thing is, we all have a role to play in protecting children and young people from child abuse and neglect.  No-one wants abuse or neglect to go undetected. But we’re unsure. We doubt ourselves and our judgement. We worry that we’ve misread the signs or have over-reacted. We worry that we might make a situation worse for the child. We worry that we’ll be ‘found out’ as the person who reported it.

All these fears are unfounded.

If you have any concerns at all, report them.

To spot the signs of child abuse or neglect, look for changes in:

Appearance – such as frequent unexplained injuries, consistently poor hygiene, matted hair, unexplained gifts, or a parent regularly collecting children from school when drunk

Behaviour – such as demanding or aggressive behavior, frequent lateness or absence from school, avoiding their own family, misusing drugs or alcohol, or being constantly tired

Communication – such as sexual or aggressive language, self-harming, becoming secretive and reluctant to share information or being overly obedient

What if I’m wrong?

You don’t need to be absolutely certain of what you’ve seen or heard to call your local children’s social care team. Information is usually gathered from many sources, and your report would form one part of a bigger picture. I think the way this poster illustrates this is really clear.
Campaign poster

Another big worry people have is that someone will find out they have made a report, but this is unlikely to happen as you can make the call anonymously, (although most people do give their details).

You may prefer to talk to someone such as a partner, family member or friend before making a report – and that’s perfectly fine.

Some people don’t report suspected abuse because they think it might just be a one-off. But even if that is the case, every child deserves to be protected and it is better to be safe than sorry.


What should I do if I suspect abuse?

Alison Munt, Family Support Team Central Bedfordshire council, says:

“If you’re worried, it’s important to share your concerns with your local children’s social care team. You can find the right phone number at You shouldn’t assume that someone else will report those concerns and your evidence could be a vital piece of information in a bigger picture. You don’t have to be absolutely certain about whether a child is being abused; if you have a feeling that something’s not right, talk to your local children’s social care team who can look into it.”

  • If you have a feeling that something’s not right, talk to your local children’s social care team who can look into it.
  • If you think a child is at immediate risk, call 999. 
  • There is a clear and easy way to get in touch with the local children’s social care team.

If you’re worried about a child, visit to get the number for your local authority.

If you have any concerns at all, report them. No child should have to suffer.


This post was written in collaboration with the Department for Education.



By Naomi

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