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Last updated: 21.02.20

What to Do if You Think a Child is Being Abused

The safety of children and young people is of the utmost importance.

The responsibility of safeguarding is shouldered by everyone who comes into contact with children and their families, as outlined by the Department of Education.

While teachers hold a specific position with which safeguarding measures can be implemented, anyone from parents to relatives, family friends or someone familiar to the child who they regularly see has a duty to help protect children and young people.

We’ve broken down the governmental advice on what to do if you think a child is being abused and outlined what each stage would mean doing.


Be Alert

The first step in helping to safeguard children is in knowing what the potential signs of abuse are and staying alert to them. Doing additional research online or taking a safeguarding course can give you a better idea of what these potential signs of abuse could be, as they can include things like becoming withdrawn from family and friends, a dramatic and unexpected change in their behaviour, and sudden aggressive behaviour both physically and verbally. Keep in mind that no one behaviour is a definitive sign of a child being abused, but it’s important to follow up on any concerning behaviour to understand the root of it.

Question Behaviours

If you’ve begun to notice concerning behaviours but the child in question hasn’t actually said anything to you about potential abuse, then you’ll need to try and ask the child some questions to understand where the change in their behaviour has come from. It can be very difficult to get young people to open up about abuse experiences, so having an on-going, open dialogue with a child can result in them eventually feeling comfortable enough to open up. You can also keep records of your concerns and see whether there are any changes or patterns over time that you notice.

Ask for Help

Getting an outside perspective can also help you get a deeper understanding of the situation, with professionals at the NSPCC helpline available to talk over details anonymously if you wish. Discussing a child’s behaviour with someone you trust could also help in figuring out how to proceed, as well as consulting teachers or healthcare professionals who interact with the child on a regular basis as they may have similar concerns.

Refer and Report

Once you reach a point where you’re certain of your concerns, it is worth raising them with the relevant authorities. This can vary depending on your position, but contacting the NSPCC helpline will allow you to make the right decision in how to escalate your concerns. The counsellor will decide whether they need to contact another agency such as children’s services or the police based on your information. Even if you’re still unsure, it’s best to contact them for advice as an early assessment can potentially help save the life of a vulnerable child. 

If you have concerns about the welfare of a child or young person then you have a responsibility to take action. Everyone who’s involved in a child’s life has to work together to successfully safeguard them from any potential abuse, and reporting any serious concerns you have will help do this. If you would like to undertake safeguarding training to better understand how you can help vulnerable children then take a look at our online Safeguarding training courses. You can also check out our useful and informative downloadable resources, including this infographic on the signs of child abuse