Abuse - guidance for parents

Help and advice for family members and friends concerned that a young person is being abused.


Every child or young person has a right to be cared for in a way that does not harm his or her physical or emotional well being or development. It does not matter if they are living at home, independently, are in further education, a member of the armed forces, in hospital, prison or a young offenders institution.

Parents or caregivers who have children and young people living with them have the responsibility of providing for them and preventing abuse so they are kept safe and healthy until the age of 18 (unless they marry before their eighteenth birthday).

In addition, children have a right to be protected from maltreatment by anyone else whether it is members of their family, friends, acquaintances and strangers. This includes other children and young people and any professional with whom they may come into contact.

What is abuse? 

Child abuse is harm done to anyone up to the age of 18 either by a family member, someone else known to them or, very rarely, a stranger. Children can be abused in their own home, in another person's home, in a community setting or in an institution, such as a children's home or educational setting.

The abuser may be an adult, adults, another child or children.

There are several types of abuse, such as:

Physical abuse

There are many forms of physical abuse. The most common includes:

  • Hitting
  • Punching
  • Shaking
  • Throwing
  • Poisoning
  • Burning
  • Scalding
  • Drowning
  • Suffocating

On rare occasions parents or carers may either make up symptoms or try to make a child ill by inducing symptoms. This is known as 'Fabricated Illness' or 'Induced Illness'.

Sexual abuse

This involves either forcing a child or young person, or encouraging them, to take part in sexual activities irrespective of whether they are aware of what is happening or not.

Sexual abuse may involve touching a child or young person's genital areas, making them touch someone else's, involving them in the production of pornographic material, making them watch sexual material or behaviour, or making them do sexual things either to themselves or with other people.

Emotional abuse

This is the most insidious and pervasive type of abuse, which affects the child or young person's innate sense of self-esteem and image.

Emotional abuse can be inflicted in a number of ways, for example:

  • Regular belittling or constantly criticising
  • Regular name calling
  • Expressing a wish they had never been born
  • Expecting them to do things that are beyond a level of responsibility they could reasonably be expected to fulfil. Examples of this are young children being forced to supervise or care fortheir younger siblings
  • Demanding that a child meets the caregiver's needs, for example that they prove their love for them or do all the housework
  • Seeing, hearing or being aware of domestic violence
  • Serious bullying or scapegoating
  • Making children feel frightened or in danger
  • Taking advantage of them

In contrast, it can also be caused by suffocating love which may exhibit itself by preventing them being involved in normal activities that are age appropriate, such as going out or mixing with other people. This could be either because the caregiver is over protective and anticipates danger in normal social activities; or wants to reduce their social contacts in order that the child remains dependent on them.


Neglect is when a child or young person's basic physical or emotional needs are not met, which could result in their health or development being damaged.

All children and young people should feel confident that their physical needs will be provided for until they are adults. This includes the provision of:

  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Safety in the home
  • Adequate clothing
  • Adequate cleanliness
  • Warmth
  • Supervision for vulnerable children
  • Medical treatment if necessary
  • Protection from physical and emotional harm or danger

Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a form of child abuse common to some African, Asian and Middle Eastern communities in the UK. This illegal and life-threatening initiation ritual can leave young victims in agony and with physical and psychological problems that can continue into adulthood. Carried out in secret and often without anaesthetic, it involves the partial or total removal of the external female genital organs. Victims are usually aged between four and ten, but some are babies.

Female genital mutilation helpline launched

Free 24-hour advice and support to protect UK children from FGM

After discovering that more than 70 women and girls as young as seven seek treatment every month, the NSPCC has launched a helpline to protect UK children from FGM. Anyone who is worried about a child being or has been a victim of FGM can contact 0800 028 3550 for information and support.

More information from THRIVE.

National FGM Assessment Tool

National FGM Best Practice Guidance