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Incidence and prevalence of child abuse and neglect

July 2013

  • Approximately 50,500 children in the UK are known to be at risk of abuse right now.
  • One in four young adults (25.3%) were severely maltreated during childhood.

We do not know exactly how many children in the UK have been abused.

The UK does not publish statistics on the number of substantiated child abuse cases recorded every year (this would be the incidence of child abuse).

Official statistics

The number of children on child protection registers or the subject of child protection plans tells us how many children are known to be at risk of abuse right now.

This is not the same as knowing how many children have been abused.

Research indicates that abuse and neglect are both under-reported and under-recorded.

Below are the most recent figures.

  • Approximately 50,500 children in the UK are known to be at risk of abuse right now.
  • Latest available figures show that there were 50,573 children on child protection registers or the subject of child protection plans in the UK as at 31 March 2012 (or 31 July 2012 in Scotland):
    England: 42,850
    Northern Ireland: 2,127
    Scotland: 2,706
    Wales: 2,890

For a breakdown by category of abuse and for the source of these figures please visit our page on child protection register statistics.


Research statistics

Research studies tell us the proportion of children who suffer abuse (this is known as the prevalence of child abuse).

Child abuse and neglect in the UK today (Radford et al, 2011) is a major piece of NSPCC research which interviewed 1,761 young adults aged 18-24 years; 2,275 children aged 11-17 years and 2,160 parents of children aged under 11.

To give the best picture of what today's children have experienced, we use the findings from the 11-17 year olds.

Severe maltreatment

  • Around one in five (18.6%) children aged 11-17 have been severely maltreated.
  • More than one in eight children aged 11-17 (13.4%) have experienced severe maltreatment by a parent or guardian.

Sexual abuse

  • One in 20 children (4.8%) have experienced contact sexual abuse.
  • Over 90% of children who experienced sexual abuse, were abused by someone they knew.
  • More than one in three children (34%) who experienced contact sexual abuse by an adult did not tell anyone else about it.
  • Four out of five children (82.7%) who experienced contact sexual abuse from a peer did not tell anyone else about it.

See our sexual abuse statistics page for more information.

Physical violence

  • One in 14 children aged 11-17 (6.9%) have experienced severe physical violence at the hands of an adult.

See our physical abuse statistics page for more information.

Neglect

  • Neglect was the most prevalent type of maltreatment in the family for all age groups.
  • One in seven children aged 11-17 (13.3%) have been neglected. Almost one in ten (9.8%) have experienced severe neglect.

See our neglect statistics page for more information.

Emotional abuse

  • One in 14 children aged 11-17 (6.8%) have experienced emotional abuse.

Experiencing domestic abuse

  • Just under one in five children aged 11-17 (17.5%) have experienced domestic violence between adults in their homes.

See our domestic abuse statistics page for more information.

Disclosure

  • More than one in five children aged 11-17 (22.9%) who were physically hurt by a parent or guardian did not tell anyone else about it.
  • More than one in three children aged 11-17 (34%) who experienced contact sexual abuse by an adult did not tell anyone else about it.
  • Four out of five children aged 11-17 (82.7%) who experienced contact sexual abuse from a peer did not tell anyone else about it.

18-24 year olds

The findings from the 18-24 year olds allow comparisons with other research studies that ask adults about their childhood experiences:

  • 25.3% of young adults had been severely maltreated during childhood.
  • 14.5% of young adults had been severely maltreated by a parent or guardian during childhood.
  • 11.5% of young adults had experienced severe physical violence during childhood at the hands of an adult.
  • 16% of young adults had been neglected at some point in their childhoods and 9% had experienced severe neglect.
  • 6.9% of young adults had experienced emotional abuse during childhood.
  • 23.7% of young adults were exposed to domestic violence between adults in their homes during childhood.

From: Radford, Lorraine, Corral, Susana, Bradley, Christine, Fisher, Helen, Bassett, Claire, Howat, Nick and Collishaw, Stephan (2011) Child abuse and neglect in the UK today . London: NSPCC.


Further reading

How to find, understand and use statistics about child abuse
A brief introduction to child abuse statistics.

Comparing child abuse statistics over time and between countries
Explains the issues around looking for trends in statistics over time, within the UK and internationally.


Contact the NSPCC's information service for further information on statistics or any child protection topic