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Worried about the welfare of a child?

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The tragic story of four-year-old Daniel Pelka who was starved and beaten to death by his mother and step father in 2012 has highlighted the danger of ignoring vital warning signs when it comes to the welfare of children. But what should you do if you suspect a child is being abused?

Safeguarding children

Abuse doesn’t just take place in poor families; it can happen to people in affluent areas too, whatever age or background. Whether you are a health visitor, doctor, social worker, teacher, a parent, guardian or friend, we all have a responsibility to look out for children who aren’t able to speak up or old enough to understand what is right and wrong.

People who work in roles of authority should have a good understanding when it comes to safeguarding legislation and what procedures should be taken if they suspect abuse. But when you’re a parent, carer or a guardian, you may worry about exactly what will happen once you have informed someone of your concerns.

Firstly, it’s important to realise that abuse can take a number of different forms. A child in need is someone who is suffering from harm or who is at risk of suffering harm, for example: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse or neglect.

The warning signs

We’ve all been there – a screaming child who yells for an hour non-stop and the worry that the neighbours will think that we’ve been inflicting harm on our child. But when is it the right time to take action if you have increasing worries about the welfare of a child?

It’s always worth remembering that it’s better to be safe than sorry and that if the child is fine you won’t be in any trouble for making your concerns known. You need to have some sort of indication that a child has suffered physical or emotional abuse or suspect that an adult is a threat to a child or children. But most importantly, you should always pass on any information if a child has told you that they are being abused or have been threatened with some form of abuse.

Possible signs of abuse may include*:

• Bruising, cuts or burns, especially in unusual areas and if the child is uncomfortable explaining how they got them

• Severe tantrums or aggressive behaviour

• Weight loss or signs the child is overly hungry, as well as other eating disorders

• The child is dirty or inappropriately dressed

• Sexually explicit behaviour, a high sexual awareness or inappropriate play at an unusually young age

• The child is being regularly kept away from social or school activities

• A mistrust of adults or a certain strong dislike to someone

• Unexplained pains, for example in the tummy or head

• Disturbed sleep or nightmares

• Bedwetting

• Reverting to younger behaviour

• Depression or withdrawal

*Please note that this list is not exhaustive, nor does it imply that any child with one or more of these symptoms or behaviours is being abused.

Child abuse help

Who should I contact?

Never worry that you are poking your nose in where it’s not wanted – child protection is everyone’s responsibility and any abuse is serious. In an emergency, don’t hesitate to dial 999.

Visit your local authority website (go to Gov.uk to find out the contact details of your local council) and get in touch with someone from the child protection or children’s services team.

Every case is different, but you may be asked to talk to someone from the police or social services to discuss your concerns so that the situation can be investigated further and as sensitively with the child and family as possible.


You can choose to remain anonymous; however, they may need to ask you for your contact details if they need to check anything with you at a later stage. If there is information you have shared that you don’t want to be revealed to the family that could leave you to be identified, then you can ask that this is not discussed directly with them.

You may also prefer to speak to someone at NSPCC for some advice and to help take action on your behalf. You can ask that your details are not passed on to the police or social services without your permission. They will also never give out any information about your report to the person or family that you have concerns about.


NSPCC helpline: 0808 800 5000

Stop it now! (sexual abuse): 0808 1000 900

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP): 0870 000 3344

What should I do if I suspect my child is being abused?

It can be incredibly hard to spot the physical symptoms and behavioural changes if you suspect that your child is being abused by someone they come into contact with on a regular basis. The Baby Centre website has a useful article giving advice on how to tell if something is wrong that describes various behavioural responses or patterns that may follow abuse.




About Julia Faulks

About Julia Faulks

Julia Faulks is a content editor and journalist with 11 years' experience writing and subbing editorial for a number of publications. Now a mother herself, she has turned her hand to writing content for parents as well as young people and likes nothing more than turning long and complicated copy into something that everyone can understand.

Website: Julia Faulks

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