What to do if you suspect a child is being abused
The tragic details of the death of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes will stay with us all, long after the trial concludes.
Many of us will be asking ourselves what we could have done to save this child’s life, and what we could do to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.
One question that will keep coming up is this: could any of us have noticed that something was very, very wrong?
And after that – if we do suspect that a child is the victim of abuse, what should we do about it? How involved can we get?
It’s an incredibly difficult crisis to navigate. We don’t want to falsely accuse any parent or carer of the horrific crime of harming a child, but it’s also crucial that we don’t see signs of abuse and do nothing.
So what is the right thing to do? We spoke with the NSPCC’s Louise Exton for her advice.
Signs that a child may be a victim of abuse
‘At the NSPCC we know that the signs of child abuse aren’t always obvious, and a child might not feel able to tell anyone what’s happening to them,’ Louise tells Metro.co.uk. ‘Sometimes, children don’t even realise that what’s happening to them is abuse or they may blame themselves, so it’s vital that the adults in their lives know what to look out for.
‘Some common signs that there may be something concerning happening to a child 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- becoming withdrawn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 that cover their body.
- 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
‘These signs don’t necessarily mean that a child is being abused, there could be other things happening in their life. The NSPCC helpline can support you to assess the situation and take the pressure off you, as this is our job.’
What should you do if you suspect a child is being abused?
We know it’s scary to take action, and you’ll be concerned that your suspicions are wrong. But Louise encourages: ‘If you are concerned about child abuse or neglect we’d advise you not to wait until you are certain.’
The best thing to do the moment you suspect a child is being abused is to contact the NSPCC as soon as possible. They will be able to offer you the best advice and provide help.
If you believe a child is in immediate danger, however, contact the police on 999 straight away.
‘There are lots of reasons why you might not want to report your concerns. Some people worry they may be wrong or don’t want to get a friend or family member in trouble,’ says Louise. ‘But there are a number of reasons why it’s important to speak up.
‘If you don’t share your concerns, you risk a child being in danger. By reporting it, you’re taking the first step to helping keep them safe and getting the support they need.
‘Speak to one of our NSPCC helpline professionals and share your concerns – they’ll offer advice, take the next steps if they need to and help put your mind at ease.
‘You don’t have to tell us who you are, where you live or share your contact details. There are lots of reasons why someone might want to remain anonymous when contacting us. If we think a child could be at risk we have a duty to share information that you give us with other agencies, but we’ll respect your wishes around remaining anonymous.
What if you’re not sure?
Many of us will fear we could get parents or carers who are not abusing children in trouble due to a misunderstanding – how can we make sure that we’re doing the right thing?
Louise says: ‘It’s not always easy to know if a child or young person is being abused or neglected. You might have noticed changes but are unsure if this is a setback in their development or if they’re being abused.
‘It’s important to remember that every child is different and the best thing you can do if you’re worried about a child is seek support and advice to help you decide what to do.
‘If you think a child might be being abused but they haven’t said anything to you, there are things you can do which can help…’
Be there for the child
‘Most children who are being abused find it very difficult to talk about it, or might not have somebody in their life they trust,’ notes Louise. ‘If you’re worried about a child in your life, work on building a positive, trusting relationship with them, so that they know they could come to you when they’re ready to talk.’
Keep a record
Make a note of your concerns and keep track of how the child is behaving. This can help you spot regular patterns and have a record should you need to take things further.
Talk to their teacher or health visitor
You don’t need to shoulder these worries along. Talk to the child’s teacher or health visitor, who may have also spotted signs or noticed that the child is acting differently.
Many schools will have a designated teacher responsible for dealing with child protection, or a child protection policy to escalate concerns.
Speak to other people
‘Talking about your worries with someone you trust will help you get someone else’s perspective,’ says Louise. ‘Sharing your concerns may help you feel more confident about taking the next steps.’
Talk to the NSPCC
Louise tells us: ‘Our helpline professionals are here to listen to your concerns and offer support and advice. You can contact us anonymously if it makes you feel more comfortable.’
If you’re worried about a child, even if you’re unsure, contact the NSPCC helpline to speak to one of their professionals. Call on 0808 800 5000, email [email protected] or fill in their online form.
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