01733863744 pscb@peterborough.gov.uk

The Signs

Abuse and neglect are forms of maltreatment of a child. Somebody may abuse or neglect a child by inflicting harm, or by failing to act to prevent harm. Children may be abused in a family or in an institutional or community setting; by those known to them or, more rarely, by a stranger. They may be abused by an adult or adults or another child or children.

Physical abuse may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating, or otherwise causing physical harm to a child. Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or carer fabricates the symptoms of, or deliberately induces illness in a child.


  • Unexplained injuries or burns, particularly If they are recurrent injuries of varying ages and types
  • Improbable reasons given to explain injuries
  • Refusal or reluctance to discuss injuries
  • Untreated injuries, delay or fear in seeking treatment
  • Admission of punishment which appears excessive
  • Withdrawal from physical contact
  • Arms and legs kept covered in hot weather
  • Child shows fear of returning home
  • Self-destructive tendencies in children
  • Aggressive towards others
  • Running away from home
  • Bruising on very young babies

The term Domestic Abuse is used to describe anything from emotional abuse and financial abuse to sexual abuse, intimidation, isolation and/or threats. This can mean:

  • Putting the person down or making the victim feel bad about themselves
  • Playing mind-games and making the person feel they are stupid or going mad
  • Enforced isolation from family or friends
  • Trying to keep the person from getting a job
  • Making the person ask for money or withholding money
  • Actual or threatened physical harm
  • Making another person do sexual things against their will
  • Making someone afraid by smashing things and destroying things
  • Making or carrying out threats to hurt someone emotionally – threatening to take the children
  • Away or commit suicide

Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activity, including sexual exploitation, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including penetrative or non-penetrative acts. They may include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, pornographic material, images of child abuse or watching sexual activities, or encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways.


  • Sudden changes of behaviour or school performance
  • Displays of affection in a sexual way inappropriate to age
  • Repression to younger behaviour such as thumb sucking, play with discarded toys, acting like a baby
  • Complaints of genital itching or pain
  • Unexplained abdominal pain
  • Distrust of a familiar adult or anxiety about being left with a particular person, relative, babysitter or lodger
  • Unexplained money or gift
  • Apparent secrecy
  • Sleep disturbances or nightmares
  • Wetting day or night
  • Chronic illness, especially throat infections
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Eating disorders, self-harm or attempted suicide
  • Unexplained pregnancy
  • Phobias or panic attacks
  • Physical and emotional developmental delay

Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development. It may involve conveying to children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person.

It may involve seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another. It may involve serious bullying causing children to frequently feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children. Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, though it may occur alone.


  • Physical, mental and emotional development delay
  • Over-reaction to mistakes
  • Low self-esteem, e.g. self-deprecation
  • Sudden speech disorders
  • Excessive fear of new situations
  • Inappropriate emotional responses to painful situations
  • Neurotic behaviour (e.g. rocking; hair twisting; thumb sucking)
  • Self-mutilation
  • Extremes of passivity or aggression
  • Drug/solvent abuse
  • Running away
  • Eating disorders
  • School refusal

Neglect is a form of Significant Harm which is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development. Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance misuse.

Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent/carer failing to provide adequate food and clothing, shelter including exclusion from home or abandonment, failing to protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger, failure to ensure adequate supervision including the use of inadequate carers. It may also include neglect of or unresponsiveness to a child’s basic emotional needs.


  • Constant hunger and/or excessive tiredness
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Poor state of clothing/inadequate clothing
  • Frequent accidental injuries
  • Untreated medical problems
  • Delay in seeking treatment
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of social relationships
  • Eating disorders
  • Children persistently left without adequate supervision

Click here to view Tri.x’s policy briefing on Missed Opportunities: Indicators of Neglect – What is Ignored, Why, and What Can be Done? – Research Report