This isn’t like my usual posts – I know you must expect flippant sarcasm whenever you wander over here, but not today. I’ve been asked to join a campaign. The “Together, we can tackle child abuse” campaign has been launched by the Department for Education with the support of local authorities and other partners. The aim of the campaign is to encourage members of the public to report instances of child abuse and neglect and overcome the barriers that stop people reporting.
Everyone has a role to play in helping to protect children. All children have a right to be safe and should be protected from all forms of abuse and neglect.
Too many of us suspect abuse, but then do nothing about it – either for fear of being wrong, or getting in trouble themselves for getting it wrong. You might not be wrong – there are lots of myths surrounding the situation:
Myths surrounding reporting abuse
- Myth: Reporting a child/family to the ‘social services’ means the child will be removed from their family immediately by social workers
Fact: Social workers protect vulnerable children and provide support to families in need of assistance.
Sharing your concerns with a local authority will not mean a child is taken into care, but could mean the authorities spot a problem sooner and can take action to help the child and the family concerned.
Ultimately the decision for removing a child from their family rests with the courts.
- Myth: It’s only child abuse if there’s physical or sexual violence
Fact: In 2014-15, over three quarters of the children on child protection plans were as a result of neglect or emotional abuse. Of the remaining children, 10% for physical abuse, and 5% for sexual abuse. Many children and young people are likely to experience more than one type of abuse.
Specifically, emotional abuse includes bullying, making a child feel worthless or unloved, inadequate, deliberately silencing them or frequently causing a child to feel frightened or in danger.
Neglect covers the ongoing persistent failure to meet a child’s basic needs. It may include failing to provide adequate food, shelter, clothing, or medical treatment. Neglect includes failure to protect a child from harm or danger and failing to ensure proper care or supervision.
- Myth: People will know it is me that reported and my call will not remain anonymous.
Fact: You will be asked about your own details but as a member of the public, you can choose to remain anonymous.
- Myth: Children are just attention seeking when they act up, not being abused!
Fact: Changes in behaviour are one of the key signs that a child may be suffering from abuse or neglect.
- Myth: Children have lots of adults they can turn to for help if they are being abused.
Fact: There are a range of barriers that stop abused children and young people asking for help. The most common are:
- having no one to turn to: absence of someone trusted to tell and feelings of isolation
- fears and anxieties manipulated by the abuser
- developmental barriers
- emotional barriers and anxieties
- no one listened and no one asked: lack of recognition of abuse by others
- anxiety over the confidentiality of their information
What are the signs of abuse?
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
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.
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’re worried about a child, visit gov.uk/reportchildabuse to get the number for your local authority.
We all have a role to play in protecting children and young people. Together, we can tackle child abuse. To join in the campaign look for the hashtag #tackleabusetogether