How to recognise the signs and what to do next 

What is child abuse

Child abuse is a form 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 others (e.g. via the internet). They may be abused by an adult or adults, or another child or children.

The definitions on this page have been provided by Working Together online.


Neglect 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 abuse. Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to:

  • provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment);
  • protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger;
  • ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate care-givers); or
  • ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment.

It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child's basic emotional needs.

Emotional abuse

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 a child that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may include not giving the child opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or 'making fun' of what they say or how they communicate.

It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. These may include interactions that are beyond a child's developmental capability, as well as overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child participating in normal social interaction

It may involve seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another. It may involve serious bullying (including cyber bullying), causing children frequently to 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 abuse

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.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening.

The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet).

Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children.

Protecting children from abuse

Cheshire Social Care believe that children deserve to be protected from these things: we want YOUR help to achieve that.

When there are cases of abuse, or when children are at risk of being abused, it is important that all of us who deal with children - social workers and members of the public can recognise the signs and help prevent unnecessary suffering.

The long experience of professional groups who regularly deal with child abuse cases: Social Care, Education, Health, Probation and Police, has led to procedures being introduced to help everyone involved deal with cases effectively and in the best interests of the children.

Recognising the signs

You should consider other factors that be present in the child’s life and home environment such as domestic abuse, crime, alcohol dependency, poor mental health, substance misuse, poor housing conditions or financial hardship.

It is important to be willing to share this information without delay and co-operate in a professional, co-ordinated approach towards safeguarding the child(ren).

The next step

If you are suspicious that a child is being abused in any way, it is vital that you tell someone. If there is someone you can talk to easily, such as a Health Visitor or Doctor, tell them.

Otherwise, contact ChECS (Cheshire East Consultation Service) – 0300 123 5012.

If children are thought to be in immediate danger, authority can be obtained to move them to a safe place to be looked after until the matter is resolved.

We are not asking you to make judgements or interfere unnecessarily in the lives of others. We simply want to ensure that children get the love, support and protection they deserve.

We want to be there when we are needed - not when it is too late

You can help us to help the children who need our support and protection. If you are genuinely concerned about a child's welfare, please get in touch with the Cheshire East Consultation Service (ChECS) on 0300 123 5012 (option 2) where you will be put through to a Social Worker. If the concern is out of hours then please contact the Emergency Duty Team on 0300 123 5022.

Page last reviewed: 07 October 2021

Contact details

0300 123 5012

0300 123 5022 – Emergency Duty Team (Out of Hours)

If you have a safeguarding concern and the phone lines are Out of Order and there is no automated message that guides you through to the service you wish to reach, please contact the below phone numbers:

  • 07784492174
  • 07814369297
  • 07966305353


Free 24 hour helpline for children and young people

ChildLine can provide help and advice about a wide range of issues, talk to a counsellor online, send ChildLine an email or post on the message boards.

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