What is child abuse?

Every family is different, but all children should be kept safe, feel loved, and receive an education. All children need to feel safe and have rules and boundaries.

Most parents/carers do everything they can to look after their children, but some may have difficulties and children may suffer as a result. There are adults whose job it is to help them.

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.

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Neglect icon


This is the ongoing failure to meet a child's basic needs. Basic needs include having enough food, having clean clothes, shelter, and supervision. It also includes having an education and receiving proper health care. Neglect can have long term effects on a child or young person's physical and mental wellbeing.

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Physical Abuse

This is when someone hurts a child on purpose. It may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning, scalding, drowning, suffocating. It can also be caused when a parent/carer makes up the symptoms of, or deliberately causes a child to become unwell. In sport it may be when a child is forced into training and competition which exceeds what their body is safely capable of.

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Emotional abuse icon

Emotional Abuse

This is any type of abuse that involves the ongoing emotional mistreatment of a child. It's sometimes called psychological abuse. It may involve making a child feel worthless or unloved or not giving them opportunities to express their views. It can also be isolating or ignoring a child or frequently making fun out of them or making them feel frightened.

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Sexual Abuse

This involves forcing or tricking a child or young person to take part in sexual activities. The child or young person may or may not be aware that what is happening is wrong. There are two types of sexual abuse – contact and non-contact. Contact abuse includes sexual touching, forcing a child to take part in sexual activities or making a child touch someone else. Non-contact abuse includes showing a child sexual images or videos, exposing a child to sexual acts or making them masturbate. It can also be making, viewing or distributing child abuse images or grooming a child in preparation of abuse. Sexual abuse can happen in person or online.

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Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse is any type of controlling, bullying, threatening or violent behaviour between people. It can happen between people who are or have been in a relationship. It can also happen between adults related to one another. Children and young people are often witness to this. It can seriously harm children and young people, and experiencing domestic abuse is child abuse.

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Bullying icon


Is behaviour which is intended to hurt someone either emotionally or physically. It's usually repeated over a long period of time. Bullying can often be aimed at certain people because of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation or disability. It can happen anywhere – at school, at home or online.

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Child Exploitation

Child Criminal Exploitation (including being involved in a gang) is child abuse where children and young people are manipulated or pressured into committing crimes such as stealing or carrying drugs or weapons.

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Child Sexual Exploitation is a type of sexual abuse. When a child or young person is exploited, they're given things like gifts, drugs, money, status and affection, in exchange for performing sexual activities.

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Grooming icon


Grooming is when someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a child or young person so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them. It can take place over a short or long period of time and can happen in person or online. Groomers may also build a relationship with the young person's family or friends to make them seem trustworthy.

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Online abuse icon

Online Abuse

Online abuse is abuse that happens via the use of a device such as computers, gaming consoles, tablets and mobile phones. And it can happen anywhere online, including: social media, text messages and messaging apps, emails, online chats, online gaming and live-streaming sites.

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What is non-recent abuse?

Non-recent child abuse, sometimes called historical abuse, is when an adult was abused as a child or young person (under the age of 18). Sometimes adults who were abused in childhood blame themselves or are made to feel it’s their fault. But this is never the case: there's no excuse for abuse.

You might have known you were abused for a very long time, or only recently learnt or understood what happened to you. Whether the abuse happened once or hundreds of times, a year or 70 years ago, whatever the circumstances, there's support to help you. It's never too late.

Children say that they want:

  • Adults to notice when things are worrying them, to understand, to listen and to help.
  • To have stable and trusting relationships with adults who are helping them.
  • To be respected, and told about decisions that may affect them.
  • To be listened to, have their views taken seriously and be involved in making any decisions.
  • To have someone help them put their views forward if they need it.
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Trusted Adult

A trusted adult is chosen by the young person as a safe figure that listens without judgement, agenda or expectation, with the sole purpose of supporting and encouraging positivity within a young person's life.

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