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Abuse (also called Significant Harm) can happen to a child at any age. Abusers can be adults but not just parents or carers, abuse often occurs within a relationship of trust e.g. a teacher, carer, family friend or youth leader.

Abuse can happen to a child or young person at any age, from birth to when they have left school. It can happen in well-off families or poor families, from any ethnic background. It can happen to children and young people whether or not they have a disability.

Abuse can happen because of the way adults or other children and young people behave towards a child or young person. It can also result from adults failing to provide proper care for the children they look after. A child or young person can suffer different kinds of abuse at the same time.

According to the NSPCC:

Child abuse is any action by another person – adult or child – that causes significant harm to a child. It can be physical, sexual or emotional, but can just as often be about a lack of love, care and attention. We know that neglect, whatever form it takes, can be just as damaging to a child as physical abuse.

An abused child will often experience more than one type of abuse, as well as other difficulties in their lives. It often happens over a period of time, rather than being a one-off event. And it can increasingly happen online.

We estimate that over half a million children are abused in the UK each year.’

According to the law, there are 4 main types of abuse that could cause harm or neglect. These are:

Physical Abuse

When an adult deliberately hurts a child, such as hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning, drowning or suffocating.

Emotional Abuse

This would happen, for example, when a child is being unfairly blamed for everything all the time; or told they are stupid and made to feel unhappy.

Sexual Abuse

An example of sexual abuse would be where a child is forced to take part in sexual activities; or in taking rude photos.


This is when a child is not being looked after properly; for example, not getting enough to eat, or being left alone in dangerous situations.

Connected issues

Bullying – e.g. calling names, damaging property, stealing, spreading rumours, cyber bullying, hurting, getting people into trouble.

Domestic Abuse – when one adult in a family or relationship threatens, bullies or hurts another family member e.g. physically, psychologically, emotionally, sexually or financially.

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