Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect

Information provided by Children and Families on child protection for the public


The responsibility of Child Protection belongs to everyone.

Children have the right to protection from abuse and neglect. All citizens, as well as professionals have a responsibility for the protection of children and for reporting concerns about a child’s welfare or safety.

Dealing with suspected or actual abuse is always stressful and upsetting. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what to do for the best.

If you know or think a child is being abused or neglected you should call Children and Families and talk to a social worker who can advise you on what to do.


  • All abuse or neglect is damaging, and children rarely lie about it.
  • Unless concerns about abuse are tackled quickly, other children might be put at risk
  • The information you have could be the only chance to stop abuse or neglect.

No one will criticise you for reporting genuine concerns.

If you have concerns about a child you might want to consider

  • Talking to the parent or carer about what is happening; Are you able to help? You might want to offer to provide a break so the parents can try and sort things out or you could offer practical help like caring for the children or shopping.
  • Suggesting the parents seek help. Encourage them to contact a health visitor, their doctor, a social worker or the NSPCC. For advice on parenting they could call Parentline Plus on 0808 800 2222.

If you are really worried about a child’s welfare, who can you talk to?


  • You can telephone Brighton and Hove's Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) during working hours on 01273 290400, or e-mail them at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
  • Outside office hours you can ring the Emergency Duty Service on 07699391462
  • You can contact the NSPCC 24 hour helpline on 0800 800 500
  • You can contact the Police Child Protection Team on 01273 665539
  • If you are concerned that a child is in immediate danger you should telephone the police on 999.


  • Child’s name , date of birth, address, race, religion, language and any known special needs
  • Parents’/Carers’ names , address
  • The reason for your concern
  • Any other factors within the family, which may be contributing to the problem.


What will happen then?

The more information you can give, the more it will help. You will be listened to and advised.

The Children and Families Team will then decide what needs to be done to make sure the child is safe. This might mean talking to the child’s teacher, health visitor or doctor. All this will help us work out if further investigation or action is needed.

In most cases the professionals can work with families to sort out problems, but sometimes they need to act quickly to make sure a child is safe. Unless the situation is a clear emergency it is very unlikely that a child will be removed from their family home.

Will you be identified?

No, the Children and Families Team will not divulge your identity if you don’t want them to. You are acting in the child’s best interest and your call may improve a child’s life. Sometimes however a family can guess the caller’s identity.

Please do not worry if you think you might be wrong and there isn’t a problem. One in four reported cases give no cause for concern and in those situations no further action is taken.

More information on Child Protection

The legal framework

Children and Families, which works very closely with health services and the Local Education Authority, has a legal duty to investigate allegations of child abuse or neglect. They work in partnership with parents and carers and with other agencies. The services provided must be sensitive to the religious, ethnic and cultural background of the child and his/her family.

The Children Act 1989 provides the legal framework for defining situations where the local authority has a duty to make enquiries.

Children who may need the help and support of other agencies including Children and Families will be defined as ‘in need’ or ‘in need of protection’.

A child in need

Children who are defined as in need are those whose vulnerability is such that they are unlikely to reach or maintain a satisfactory level of health or development without the provision of services by the local authority. In these cases you may have concerns over the child’s welfare but they will not be suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm.

Where you think a child is in need, you should discuss with the parent whether or not a referral to your local Children and Families Team might be helpful. Where such referrals are made an assessment of the child’s needs will be undertaken to determine whether future services would be helpful to the child and family.

A child in need of protection

A child is a child in need (as above) but who is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm i.e. physical, emotional or sexual abuse, or neglect (as described below).

The concept of significant harm

The Children Act 1989 introduced the concept of ‘significant harm’ as the threshold that justifies compulsory intervention in family life in the best interests of the child.

There are no absolute criteria on which to rely when judging significant harm. Consideration will be given on the severity, extent, duration, frequency, extent of premeditation and the degree of threat or coercion involved.

Sometimes, a single traumatic event may constitute significant harm e.g. a violent assault. More often, it is a compilation of significant events, which interrupt, change or damage the child’s development.

What is child abuse?

Physical abuse

Physical abuse may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning, scalding, drowning, suffocating or otherwise causing physical harm to a child.

Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or carer feigns symptoms of or deliberately causes ill health in a child whom they are looking after. This was in the past commonly described as Munchausen's Syndrome by proxy, but is now termed fabricated or induced illness (FII) in children. You should know that in all cases, female circumcision is illegal and cannot be carried out in the UK.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional ill treatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse affects on the child’s emotional development. It may involve conveying to children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate or valued only in so far as they meet the needs of another person. It may involve causing children to frequently feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children.

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 pornographic material or watching sexual activities, or encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways.


Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development. It may involve a parent or carer failing to provide adequate food, shelter and clothing, failing to protect a child from physical harm or danger or the failure to ensure access to the appropriate medical care or treatment. It may also include neglect of a child’s basic emotional needs.

Recognition – what to look for

Physical abuse

a) Visible signs:

  • Injuries to any part of the body
  • Children who find it painful to walk, sit down, to move their jaws or who are in some kind of other pain.
  • Injuries that are not typical of the bumps and scrapes associated with children’s activities, and bruising in unusual places or in recognisable shapes eg hand-shaped.
  • The regular occurrence of unexplained injuries.
  • The child who is frequently injured, where even apparently reasonable explanations are given.

b) Behavioural signs:

  • Furtive, secretive behaviour
  • Uncharacteristic aggression or withdrawn behaviour
  • Compulsive eating or sudden loss of appetite
  • The child who suddenly becomes ill co-ordinated
  • The child who finds it difficult to stay awake
  • The child who is repeatedly absent
  • Children expressing pain without any cause

c) What to listen for:

  • Listen for confused or conflicting explanations of how injuries were sustained
  • Evaluate carefully what is said and preferably document it verbatim
  • Consider if the explanation is in keeping with the nature, age and site of the injury.

d) Consider:

  • What do you know about the family
  • Is there a history of known or suspected abuse
  • Has the family been under stress recently
  • Do you have any concerns about the family?

Emotional abuse

The recognition of emotional abuse is based on observations over time of the quality of relationships between parent/ carer and the child.

a) Watch for parent/carer behaviours:

  • Poor attachment relationship with the child
  • Unresponsive or neglectful behaviour towards the child’s emotional or psychological needs.
  • Persistent negative comments about the child
  • Inappropriate or inconsistent developmental expectations of the child
  • Parental problems that supersede the needs of the child
  • Dysfunctional family relationships including domestic violence.
  • "Low in warmth but high in criticism"

b) Watch for child behaviours:

  • Emotional indicators such as low self esteem, unhappiness, fear, distress, anxiety
  • Behavioural indicators such as attention seeking , opposing, withdrawn, insecure.
  • Physical indicators such as failure to thrive / faltering growth, delay in achieving developmental, cognitive or educational milestones.

Sexual abuse

a) Physical signs

  • Signs of blood or other discharge on the child’s under clothes
  • Awkwardness in walking or sitting down
  • Tummy pains
  • Regression into enuresis
  • Tiredness

b) Behavioural signs

  • Extreme variations in behaviour e.g. anxiety, aggression or withdrawal
  • Sexually proactive behaviour or knowledge that is incompatible with the child’s age and understanding.
  • Drawings and or written work which are sexually explicit (indirect disclosure)
  • Direct Disclosure; it is important to recognise that children have neither the experience nor the understanding to be able make up stories about sexual assault.


Indicators of neglect are recognisable in the child, in the parent / carers behaviours and within the home environment.

a) Physical signs

  • Abnormal growth including failure to thrive
  • Underweight or obesity
  • Recurrent infection
  • Unkempt dirty appearance
  • Smelly
  • Inadequate/Unwashed clothes
  • Hunger
  • Listlessness

b) Behavioural signs

  • Attachment disorders
  • Indiscriminate friendliness
  • Poor social relationships
  • Poor concentration
  • Development delays
  • Low self esteem
  • Flatness of affect

c) Environmental signs

  • Insufficient food, heating and ventilation in the home
  • Risk from animals in the household, including faeces and urine
  • Inappropriate sleeping arrangements and inadequate bedding
  • Dangerous or hazardous environment

What legal powers do the authorities have?

In all cases the local authority will want to assist a child with the consent and co-operation of their parents or carers.

However, in an emergency, the police can take a child into their protection for up to 72 hours. They will ask Children and Families to look after the child during this period. This is known as Police Protection.

In an emergency, social workers can apply to the Magistrates Court for permission to take a child to a ‘safe place’ and keep him/her there for up to 8 days. This is most likely to be with foster carers. A further 7 days can be added if necessary. This is called an Emergency Protection Order (EPO).

Because it is an emergency, the court may grant the EPO 'ex parte' (without the parents being present or legally represented) and they may also give instructions for the child to be interviewed or medically examined. If the parents are not given the opportunity to be present at the initial application they can apply to discharge the EPO after 72 hours.

The child protection investigation

Children and Families is the co-ordinating agency for child protection work. Once they have received a referral they will make an initial assessment of the child’s needs and circumstances. If the child is deemed to be ‘in need of protection’ Children and Families and the Police work together to identify the level of risk to the child and agree what protective action may be necessary. A ‘strategy discussion’ of professionals involved will be held to plan the investigation. If the investigation finds sufficient cause for concern, a child protection conference will be called within fifteen working days.

The Child Protection Conference

This is a meeting convened by Children and Families and involving the professionals who know the family, the parents, the investigators and others who can contribute to the decision making. Parents of the child are normally invited and will be offered the opportunity to meet the chair of the conference beforehand so they can be told in more detail what will happen during the meeting. Depending on the age and understanding the child, the child in question may be invited. An interpreter will be invited to attend if the child and/or their parent’s first language is not English.

The purpose of the conference is to establish whether or not the child is suffering significant ham, and to agree an action plan (called a child protection plan) to protect the child and support the family. If the child is considered to be suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm, his or her name will be placed on the 'list of children subject to child protection plans'.

When a child’s name is placed on the above 'list' he or she will be seen regularly and the situation kept under review. A small group called a core group will then be identified by the conference to ensure the protection plan is carried out.

A name can only be removed from the above 'list' following a multi agency agreement at a review meeting.

What if you wish to complain, or as a parent are dissatisfied with a decision made by Children and Families?

You should first address the issues with the social worker involved in the case to see if the matter can be resolved amicably. If you wish to take your complaint further ask the social worker for a complaints leaflet or contact;

The Standards and Complaints Team,
Brighton, BN1 1JP

Or Telephone FREEPHONE 0500 291229.





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