What is child abuse and how to spot it

Children should thrive

Children should thrive

Concerns about a child can arise in a number of ways, e.g. an accumulation of concerns, a single significant incident, reports from the child themselves, observation of child/parent interaction or information from a relative or a member of the public.

The child may be living with or affected by:


  • Problematic alcohol and/or drug use
  • Mental health / illness
  • Disability
  • Domestic abuse
  • Neglect
  • Physical, sexual or emotional abuse


There may be signs which cause concerns and could be an indication of a child being abused neglected or exploited.  Whilst not an exhaustive list the child may:


  • Have unexplained bruising or bruising in an unusual place
  • Appear afraid, quiet or withdrawn
  • Be afraid to go home
  • Appear hungry, tired or unkempt
  • Be left unattended or unsupervised
  • Have too much responsibility for their age
  • Be acting out in a sexually inappropriate way
  • Be misusing drugs or alcohol


Not all children who are abused or neglected will display these signs and equally a child may display some of these signs and symptoms for other reasons.  All staff who work and/or come into contact with children and their families have a role to play in child protection.  That role will range from identifying and sharing concerns about a child to making an active contribution to joint decision-making and/or providing direct support to the child and their family. 


All forms of child abuse involve elements of power imbalance, exploitation, and the absence of true consent, whether they concern acts of commission or acts of omission.  The abuse of children can take many forms; children can be subjected to more than one form of abuse at a time; and different children in a family may be abused in different ways. The following are the 13 areas of concern identified by Scottish Government for the recording and classification of abuse.   Children may be assessed and registered as at risk due to more than one area of concern at any time and concerns which create risk may change over time. 


  1. Domestic Abuse
  2. Parental Alcohol Misuse
  3. Parental Drug Misuse
  4. Non-Engaging Family
  5. Child Affected by Parental Mental Health Problems
  6. Child Placing Themselves At Risk
  7. Sexual Abuse
  8. Child Exploitation
  9. Physical Abuse
  10. Emotional Abuse
  11. Physical Neglect
  12. Child Sexual Exploitation
  13. Other Concern


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