What is child abuse?
Child abuse is any harm inflicted on a person under the age of 18 (or 16 if married). 'Harm' means any ill-treatment or impairment of health (mental or physical) or development (physical, intellectual, emotional, social and behavioural). There are four main types of abuse:
Physical abuse is when a child is physically hurt or injured by their parents or other people (e.g. teachers, older siblings, relatives). The abuse may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating, or otherwise causing physical harm to a child. Injuries may include cuts, bruising, burns, broken bones and may even lead to a child's death.
Emotional abuse is when a child is persistently not given love, approval or acceptance from their parents or other care givers. It may involve the parent or care giver telling the child that he/she is worthless, unloved, and inadequate, that other people are better than they are, or they may reject the child and the child's needs (e.g. affection). Emotional abuse may include causing the child to feel frightened, unsafe or in danger. The parent or care giver may place developmental or age inappropriate demands and expectations on the child. Emotional abuse may occur alone, or along side other forms of abuse, as some level of emotional abuse will be present at any ill-treatment of a child. Emotional abuse causes severe and adverse effects on a child's emotional development, and may even lead to the child committing suicide.
Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child's basic physical and/or psychological needs, and is likely to result in the serious impairment of the child's health or development. Neglect may involve a parent or care giver failing to provide the child adequate food, shelter and clothing, and a child's basic emotional needs. It also may involve a failure to protect the child from physical harm or danger, and a failure to access the appropriate medical care or treatment if the child is hurt.
Sexual abuse involves encouraging, enticing or forcing a child to take part in sexual activities. This may be physical contact (penetrative and non-penetrative acts), or non physical (looking at a child in a sexual way, encouraging child to view adults genitalia) Sexual abuse may include using a child in pornographic material, encouraging, enticing or forcing a child to watch sexual activities or behave in a sexually inappropriate way.
Some facts about child abuse ...
The offical statistics on child abuse in the UK are horrifying. At least one child dies every week as the result of an adult's cruelty. Thousands more endure abuse and neglect at the hands of their carers. Yet the known facts reveal only a fraction of the problem. This is because most cases of abuse go unreported, leaving children to suffer the pain and misery of abuse in silence.
- Each week at least one child will die as the result of an adult's cruelty
- A quarter of all rape victims are children
- Most abuse is committed by someone the child knows and trusts.
- The abuse is often known about or suspected by another adult who could have done something to prevent it.
- Three-quarters of sexually abused children do not tell anyone at the time. Around a third are not able to tell anyone about the experience later.
- More than 30,000 children are on child protection registers because they are at risk of abuse.
- Each week over 600 children are added to the child protection registers.
- Recent NSPCC research involving 2,869 young adults revealed that 1 in 10 of them had suffered serious abuse or neglect during childhood.
- Each week at least 450,000 children are bullied at school.
- The current cost of child abuse to statutory and voluntary organisations is £1 billion a year. Most of this is spent dealing with the aftermath of abuse rather than its prevention.
It is important to remember that children often love the person who is abusing them and simply want the abusive behaviour to stop. Because they love and care about the person, they may be reluctant to get the person in trouble. Many perpetrators tell children to keep the abuse a secret and frighten them with unpleasant consequences, this makes it very difficult for the child to trust anybody enough to tell them what is going on.
Child Protection ... Who's responsibility is it?
The responsibility for child protection belongs to everyone. Children will only be safe if families, communities and professionals work together to promote their welfare. Child abuse is a complex community problem, which no single organisation, person or professional can prevent on its own. Dealing effectively with it demands a multi-disciplinary approach which provides for the needs of the abused child or youth in a holistic way. The public sector and the community should work together and accept joint responsibility for the protection of children in our society. The important thing to remember is that if you have concerns over a child's safety, to report them immediately.
This article forms part of Ongoing Support's Child Protection Policy.