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What is Abuse?

The ill-treatment or abuse of a child (sometimes called significant harm) could involve physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect.

Physical Abuse:

This involves an adult deliberately hurting a child by hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning, scalding, drowning or suffocating or doing something to cause physical harm to the child.

Emotional Abuse:

This involves continually ill-treating a child emotionally so that their emotional development is seriously affected. This could happen, for example, when a child is unfairly blamed for everything all the time or told they are stupid. It could involve a child being made to feel worthless, unloved or valued only for what they can do for other people.

A child’s emotional development could also be seriously harmed if they see or hear another person being ill-treated, for example if they witness domestic abuse and violence in the family.

Emotional abuse could also involve serious bullying of a child so that they frequently feel frightened or in danger.

Some level of emotional abuse is involved in most types of ill-treatment of a child, although emotional abuse can take place on its own.

Sexual Abuse:

This involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities. It includes involving children in looking at pornography or taking indecent photographs of children. Sexual abuse also involves online grooming, that is trying to get children and young people to take part in sexual acts over the internet.


Neglect is the continuing failure to look after a child properly so that their health and development are seriously undermined. This could happen, for example, if a child is not given proper food, clothing or shelter. Neglect also involves excluding a child from home or abandoning them. It involves failing to protect a child from danger or to supervise a child properly or failing to get proper medical care for the child when needed.