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Abuse is one of the very worst things that can ever happen to a child. But it's not always easy to pick up the signs. And a child might not even know that what's happening is wrong. You might have noticed bruises on a child that seem concerning, but you're not sure they're being abused. Or, you might be worried a child is being neglected because you often hear them crying in distress.
By being prepared, and knowing what help is available, you can make a real difference to a child's safety and wellbeing. Below you can find support and advice on what to do if you think a child's being abused.
Northumbria Police ensures all child abuse allegations are investigated thoroughly but sensitively, always putting the needs of the children at risk first. Specialist teams trained in responding to these offences are in all area commands.
All allegations of abuse made by the public or other agencies, such as health or children’s services, are brought to the attention of the area command Child Abuse Investigation Unit (CAIU). If police officers attending an incident develop concerns about the welfare of any children, they will alert the CAIU.
A CAIU is in every area command of Northumbria Police. Each unit is supervised by a detective sergeant who, along with a team of specially trained detective constables, investigates all cases of abuse against children within family relationships, involving professionals or carers and organised abuse. The teams work closely with local authority children’s services to safeguard children. In all cases of suspected child abuse, a consultation will take place.
The focus of police activity is to investigate criminal offences, while children’s services deal with the pastoral needs of children and their families.
What to do if you're not sure
- Continue to talk to the child
Most children who are being abused find it very difficult to talk about it. By having ongoing conversations, the time may come when they're ready to talk.
- Keep a diary
This is a good way to keep a note of your concerns and the way your child is behaving. It can also help to spot patterns of behaviour.
- Talk to the child's teacher or health visitor
The professionals who come into contact with the child may also have noticed them acting unusually.
- Get someone else's perspective
Talk about your worries with a trusted friend or family member or with an NSPCC helpline counsellor. Ask what they think about your concerns.
- Talk through your worries
You can also report your worries to our helpline on 0808 800 5000. You don't have to give your name if you'd prefer to remain anonymous.
If you suspect that someone is abusing a child, reporting the abuse may not be something you want to consider, especially if the alleged abuser is a friend or family member.
Your initial reaction may be to dismiss it or try to prove it's not true. But it's vital that you report your concerns if you feel a child's in danger. By not reporting your concerns it could mean that the abuse will continue.
There are many reasons why adults don't report their concerns when they're worried about a child. But children need someone to speak up for them to help them.
Whether you're the child's parent, relative, family friend, neighbour or a professional, don't let anything stop you from protecting a child.
Regardless of how you know the child, if you see or hear something that worries you it’s always good to trust your instinct and talk to somebody about it. You might be the only one who acts.
If in doubt, report it
Don’t wait until you’re certain. If you’re not sure, there is help and advice out there. Don’t worry if you think you might be wrong, you could be right and sharing your concerns can help to keep the child safe.
Click the link to find out ways you can report child abuse:
There is no clear legal definition of ‘child abuse’ but there are laws to protect children from harm. For example local authorities and certain other agencies or organisations that come into contact with children have a legal duty to protect them if they are:
- under 18, and
- suffering, or are likely to suffer, significant harm.
Harm to a child means ill treatment or damage to their health or development. Here are some examples of things which would cause harm and where a child would need protection.
Coping with abuse and its effects is very difficult for children and it's also hard for them to talk about it.
Depending on their age and maturity they might simply not understand what is happening to them or have the words to describe it. They may also be very aware that there will be consequences if they decide to speak out. For example, they might be afraid of the abuser finding out and worried that the abuse will get worse.
They may also feel that there is no one that they can tell, or that they won't be believed.
In some cases, children don't even realise that they've been abused and may believe that what they've experienced is quite normal. Those who do know that what has happened to them is wrong might be too ashamed to reveal it.
If you're in a situation where a child discloses abuse to you, there are a number of steps you can take.
- Listen carefully to the child. Avoid expressing your own views on the matter. A reaction of shock or disbelief could cause the child to 'shut down', retract or stop talking
- Let them know they've done the right thing. Reassurance can make a big impact to the child who may have been keeping the abuse secret
- Tell them it's not their fault. Abuse is never the child's fault and they need to know this
- Say you will take them seriously. A child could keep abuse secret in fear they won't be believed. They've told you because they want help and trust you'll be the person to believe them and help them
- Don't talk to the alleged abuser. Confronting the alleged abuser about what the child's told you could make the situation a lot worse for the child
- Explain what you'll do next.If age appropriate, explain to the child you'll need to report the abuse to someone who will be able to help
- Don't delay reporting the abuse.The sooner the abuse is reported after the child discloses the better. Report as soon as possible so details are fresh in your mind and action can be taken quickly.
It can be helpful to make some notes on what the child said to you, trying to keep this as accurate as possible.
You can report the abuse to the NSPCC helpline at any time where a helpline counsellor will speak with you about what the child has said and advise you on what needs to happen next.
If a decision is made that a child is at risk of harm or is in need, we will:
- ask you to provide the child’s details (name, age, address) as well as any information you have about the alleged abuser
- take detailed notes on what you tell us
- share this information with children’s services as well as the police, if necessary
- advise you on any other support available to you
- You can find out more information about what to expect when you contact us on our reporting abuse page.
You can also report abuse directly to children's services where the child is living.
If a child is in immediate danger, call the police on 999.