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Recognising and preventing child abuse

The NSPCC says '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.' Child abuse can happen to any child, regardless of their gender, age or background.

It is the responsibility of every adult to report child abuse if they know or suspect that abuse is happening.

Helping to prevent child abuse

  • Be aware that a child often knows the person who is abusing them. They are likely to be trusted relatives, family friends, neighbours or babysitters.
  • Don't leave your child with anyone you don't know well and try to find out as much as you can about babysitters before your child is looked after by them. You can find further advice regarding this on our Safe childcare page.
  • Make sure you have met your child's friends and their family before they go for a sleepover at their house. This is still important to do with teenagers, as they become more independent and make new friends at secondary school that you may not know so well.
  • Always listen to what your child has to say about the people who have looked after them. If they are not happy, find someone else.
  • Make sure your child understands what unacceptable physical closeness and activities are, including being photographed inappropriately. The NSPCC Underwear Rule offers parents advice on how to have these conversations with young children.
  • Make sure your child knows how to keep themselves safe online and when they are outside the home.

Signs to look out for

There can be many reasons for changes in your child's behaviour but you may need to step in and do something if your child is:

  • having problems sleeping
  • having nightmares
  • becoming withdrawn or very clingy
  • showing personality changes such as becoming insecure
  • wetting the bed
  • showing an unaccountable fear of particular places or people
  • having outbursts of unexplained anger
  • changing their eating habits
  • displaying physical signs such as unexplained bruises or soreness or sexually transmitted diseases
  • becoming secretive
  • becoming possessive and protective of their mobile phone
  • stopping you from seeing what they're doing online
  • displaying sexual behaviour towards other children, or with toys or objects.
  • becoming pregnant

What to do if you suspect abuse

  • If your child is unhappy about going to a friend or carer, a regular activity or being with a particular adult, talk to them about why this is and make sure they understand you believe them.
  • If you think your child, or any child, is in immediate danger call the Police on 999.
  • If you're worried but you don't think the child is in immediate danger, call Surrey Police on 101.
  • Someone from the Police or Surrey County Council's Children's Services will talk to you about your concerns and may ask for details so they can investigate further. Children's Services are required under law to investigate concerns about child abuse but it is rare for a child to be removed from their family. Children's Services will aim to ensure a family is supported as well as making sure that the child is kept safe.

Where families can get support

If abuse of any kind has happened to your child, it is really important to get support. Below are shortlists of charities and local services that help people, both children and adults, who have experienced abuse of any kind, including online abuse and child sexual exploitation.

Services for children who have been abused, or who need more support to understand online safety and child sexual exploitation.

Services for adults to help understand and prevent abuse. Services are also available for adults who were abused during their own childhood.

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