Finding out that your child, or a child in your care, has witnessed or been the victim of child abuse can be incredibly difficult. The first priority is to make sure that the child and any others affected are safe. The second is to ensure that the threat or danger to them is removed. We aim to do both. Find out below how to talk to your child, or children in your care, about possible abuse and who you can contact for help and support.

Noticing the problem

A child may not understand that they are being abused. For some, the complex dynamics of abuse mean they develop an attachment to the person harming them. This can make identifying the abuse difficult and result in the victim playing down or even denying the abuse.

Visit our What is child abuse? page to learn more about the four main types of abuse and the common symptoms and behaviours associated with each.

If a child tells you something that worries you

If a child has witnessed or been the victim of abuse they may have struggled for some time before deciding to talk to you, and are likely worried about how you will react. So if they choose to confide in you:

  • listen and don’t interrupt

  • try not to appear shocked or surprised: seeing you upset may make them stop talking

  • make a written note of what they have said as soon as possible

  • report possible child abuse to the police, social care, NSPCC or Crimestoppers

They need to know that they are safe and that you will protect them, so try to reassure them.

Some people may not want to speak with the police straight away. However, the quicker police are informed, the quicker we can help stop the abuse and prevent it from happening to anyone else.

What happens after you report it?

Uniformed officers may take an initial report, after which specialist detectives may investigate. They will explain in detail what will happen next.

Neither you nor the child will be forced to do anything you are not comfortable with. However we will always take action if we think a child is at risk from further harm.

Staying safe online

In general, the best way to ensure children are safe online is to talk about it together, discuss your concerns and ask them to show you what they do online, for reassurance.

You might both find it helpful to visit ThinkUKnow, which explains the dangers of sharing personal details online and the risks involved in meeting up with someone you’ve met online.

If you're worried a child might be arranging to meet someone they’ve only ever met online, it's very important they understand the risks. Talk to them calmly about why you’re worried and accompany them to make sure you are satisfied they are safe.

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) works with partners across the UK and overseas to identify threats to children and bring offenders to account.

Advice for carers and professionals

Where you have cause for concern about something a child has told you, it’s important to reassure the child but not promise confidentiality. Ultimately, police and other professionals may have to intervene in order to keep that child, and other children, safe and prevent further harm.

Record in writing all of your concerns, discussions about the child, decisions and the reasons for those decisions.

An allegation of child abuse or neglect may lead to a criminal investigation, so it’s vital that you don't do anything that may jeopardise that, such as asking leading questions or attempting to investigate allegations yourself.

However, it is important to establish the basic facts in order for police or Children's Social Care to be able to make an assessment of the risks posed to that child.

Speak with your safeguarding lead for support and advice.