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Definitions of abuse and neglect
What is abuse and neglect?
Abuse and neglect are forms 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 a stranger. They may be abused by an adult or adults or
another child or children.
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.
Emotional abuse is 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 children
that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate or valued only
insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may feature
age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on
children. These may include interactions that are beyond the
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, 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, through it may occur alone.
Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young
person to take part in sexual activities, including prostitution,
whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The
activities may involve physical contact, including penetrative
(e.g. rape, buggery or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts. They may
include non-contact activities, such as involving children in
looking at or in the production of sexual images or watching sexual
activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually
inappropriate ways or grooming a child including via the
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
- ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment.
It may also include neglect of or unresponsiveness to a child’s
basic emotional needs.
If you have a concern about a child, please go to
Child protection enquiries and investigations: Information
for parents, an information leaflet for parents whose children
are subject to child protection concerns, is available on the
Medway Safeguarding Children