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Types of Abuse

Child abuse is any form of physical, emotional or sexual mistreatment, or lack of care that leads to injury or harm. Abuse (also called significant harm) can happen to a child at any age. Abusers can be adults, but not just parents/carers, abuse often occurs within a relationship of trust e.g., a family member or friend, a teacher, a youth leader.

There are four main types of child abuse:


Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child's basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child's health or development. Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse. Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent/carer failing to:

  • provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment)
  • protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger
  • ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate care-givers)
  • ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment
  • be responsive to a child’s basic emotional needs.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating, or otherwise causing physical harm to a child. Physical harm may also be caused when a parent/carer fabricates the symptoms of, or deliberately induces illness in a child. Physical abuse in sport may be when a child is forced into training and competition which exceeds the capacity of his or her immature and growing body; or where the child is given drugs to enhance performance or delay puberty.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including penetrative or non-penetrative acts. They may include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of sexual online images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation of abuse (including via the internet).

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development. It may involve:

  • Conveying to children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued online insofar as they meet the needs of another person.
  • Age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children.
  • Not giving the child opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or making fun of what they have to say or how they communicate.
  • Seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another or the exploitation of a child.
  • Serious bullying (including cyber bullying) causing children to frequently feel frightened or in danger.

Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all maltreatment of a child, though it may occur alone.

Worried About A Child?


In an emergency please call the Police on 999

If you are worried a child is, or at risk of, suffering, neglect or abuse please contact the Children's Reception Team on 0300 300 0117 (available 24 hours a day).

You do not need to know everything about the child before contacting the Children's Reception Team.
If you are concerned, it is important that you talk to someone about this.