What is child abuse?

Abuse (also called Significant Harm) can happen to a child at any age. Abusers can be adults but not just parents or carers, abuse often occurs within a relationship of trust e.g. a teacher, carer, family friend or youth leader.

Abuse can happen to a child or young person at any age, from birth to when they have left school. It can happen in well-off families or poor families, from any ethnic background. It can happen children and young people whether or not they have a disability.

Abuse can happen because of the way adults or other children and young people behave towards a child or young person. It can also result from adults failing to provide proper care for the children they look after. A child or young person can suffer different kinds of abuse at the same time.

According to the NSPCC:

Child abuse is any action by another person – adult or child – that causes significant harm to a child. It can be physical, sexual or emotional, but can just as often be about a lack of love, care and attention. We know that neglect, whatever form it takes, can be just as damaging to a child as physical abuse.

An abused child will often experience more than one type of abuse, as well as other difficulties in their lives. It often happens over a period of time, rather than being a one-off event. And it can increasingly happen online.

We estimate that over half a million children are abused in the UK each year.’

According to the law, there are 4 main types of abuse that could cause harm or neglect. These are:

Physical Abuse

When an adult deliberately hurts a child, such as hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning, drowning or suffocating.

Emotional Abuse

This would happen, for example, when a child is being unfairly blamed for everything all the time; or told they are stupid and made to feel unhappy.

Sexual Abuse

An example of sexual abuse would be where a child is forced to take part in sexual activities; or in taking rude photos.


This is when a child is not being looked after properly; for example, not getting enough to eat, or being left alone in dangerous situations.

Connected issues include

Bullying – e.g. calling names, damaging property, stealing, spreading rumours, cyber bullying, hurting, getting people into trouble.

Domestic Abuse – when one adult in a family or relationship threatens, bullies or hurts another family member e.g. physically, psychologically, emotionally, sexually or financially.

Further help

Safeguarding African Children in the UK
AFRUCA has produced the “Safeguarding Africans Children in the UK” series of publications to highlight different safeguarding issues and to assist members of the African community in the UK to know more about different forms of child abuse and how to identify the signs so children can be safe and be better protected found at www.afruca.org/

Got a question?

Use our quick Q+A to find commonly asked questions.

Can’t find what you are looking for?

View our resources page

Latest News and Training & Events

We try to keep our news feed as up to date as possible and feature items of interest to practitioners and volunteers across our partnership.




This protocol provides guidance and signposting to support for schools and colle ...



We are pleased to share our Annual Report for the period 1st April 2020 to 31st ...




The Manchester Safeguarding Partnership (MSP) partners are clear about their res...



A variety of free online Safeguarding Adults courses can be accessed by anyone ...


GMFRS logo
nwas logo
CPS logo
Christie logo
Cafcass logo
GMSP logo
hw_manchester logo
Macc logo
PAHT logo
MFT logo
mhcc logo
NHS England logo
CRC logo
NPS logo
GMP logo
Barnardo's logo
MCC logo
Manchester Safeguarding Boards