Signs, symptoms and effects of child abuse and neglect What to look out for, the effects of abuse and support for adults abused as children

The signs of child abuse aren't always obvious, and a child might not tell anyone what's happening to them.

Children might be scared that the abuser will find out, and worried that the abuse will get worse. Or they might think that there’s no-one they can tell or that they won’t be believed.

Sometimes, children don't even realise that what's happening is abuse.

The effects of abuse may be short term or may last a long time - sometimes into adulthood. Adults who were abused as children may need advice and support.

Worried about a child?

Contact our trained helpline counsellors for 24/7 help, advice and support.

0808 800 5000

Report a concern

How to tell whether behaviour is normal for their age

Children develop and mature at different rates. So what’s worrying for a younger child, might be normal behaviour for an older child. If a child looks or acts a lot older or younger than their age, this could be a cause for concern.

However, if a child develops more slowly than others of a similar age and there’s not a cause such as physical or learning disabilities, it could be a sign they’re being abused.

    • Talks of being left home alone or with strangers.
    • Poor bond or relationship with a parent, also known as attachment.
    • Acts out excessive violence with other children.
    • Lacks social skills and has few if any friends.

 

    • Doesn’t cry or respond to parent’s presence or absence from an early age
    • Reaches developmental milestones late, such as learning to speak, with no medical reason
    • Significantly underweight but eats well when given food.

 

    • Becomes secretive and reluctant to share information.
    • Reluctant to go home after school.
    • Unable to bring friends home or reluctant for professionals to visit the family home.
    • Poor school attendance and punctuality, or late being picked up.
    • Parents show little interest in child’s performance and behaviour at school.
    • Parents are dismissive and non-responsive to professional concerns.
    • Is reluctant to get changed for sports etc.
    • Wets or soils the bed.
    • Drinks alcohol regularly from an early age.
    • Is concerned for younger siblings without explaining why.
    • Becomes secretive and reluctant to share information.
    • Talks of running away.
    • Shows challenging/disruptive behaviour at school.
    • Is reluctant to get changed for sports etc.

Children's stories

"I even felt lonely when mum and dad were in the house because mentally they were completely out of it."

Read Sophie's story

What to do if you suspect abuse

These are the steps you can take to help keep a child safe from abuse and to protect a child if you suspect they've been abused.
Find out what to do

Adults who were abused as children

Children who have been abused or neglected may experience physical or emotional harm. The effects can be short term but sometimes they last into adulthood. If someone has been abused as a child, it is more likely that they will suffer abuse again. This is known as revictimisation.

Long term effects of abuse and neglect include:

  • emotional difficulties such as anger, anxiety, sadness or low self-esteem
  • mental health problems such as depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), self harm, suicidal thoughts
  • problems with drugs or alcohol
  • disturbing thoughts, emotions and memories that cause distress or confusion
  • poor physical health such as obesity, aches and pains
  • struggling with parenting or relationships
  • worrying that their abuser is still a threat to themselves or others
  • learning difficulties, lower educational attainment, difficulties in communicating
  • behavioural problems including anti-social behaviour, criminal behaviour.

Working with the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC)

We’ve worked in partnership with NAPAC since December 2012 to help provide 24/7 support to survivors of child abuse. Our helpline practitioners provide immediate support and advice 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and direct people to NAPAC for further help.

Signs, symptoms and effects for different types of abuse

Domestic abuse

Find out about the signs, symptoms and effects of children witnessing domestic abuse or experiencing violence in their own relationships.

Learn what to look out for

Sexual abuse

Find out more about the signs, symptoms and effects of child sexual abuse

Learn what to look out for

Neglect

Find out about the signs, symptoms and effects of child neglect.

Learn what to look out for

Physical abuse

Find out about the signs, symptoms and effects of physical abuse and non-accidental head injuries. 

Learn what to look out for

Non-recent abuse

The effects of non-recent abuse and support for adults abused as children.

Learn what to look out for

Online abuse and bullying

Find out about the sign, symptoms and effects of online abuse.

Learn what to look out for

Child trafficking

Find out about the signs, symptoms and effects of child trafficking.

Learn what to look out for

Emotional abuse

Find out more about the signs, symptoms and effects of emotional abuse and emotional neglect.

Learn what to look out for

Female genital mutilation (FGM)

Find out the signs, symptoms and effects of female genital mutilation.

Learn what to look out for

Child abuse and neglect

Find out what child abuse is, how to spot the signs, who is affected and what you should do if you're worried about a child
Learn more

Core info: recognise the physical signs of abuse and neglect

Bruises on children: Core info leaflet

How to identify bruises that may be the result of child abuse or neglect. Part of the Core info leaflet series.
Find out more

Emotional neglect and emotional abuse in pre-school children: Core info leaflet

Leaflet summarising what we currently know about children under 6 who have been emotionally neglected or abused. Part of the Core info leaflet series.
Find out more

Core info leaflet series

View our full series of Core info leaflets covering different physical signs of child abuse and neglect. Each leaflet summarises what we know from systematic reviews of published research.

Read Core info leaflets

What we do about child abuse and neglect

Services for children, families and professionals

We work face to face with children, young people and families who need our help across the UK.
View our services

Childline

Childline is our free, confidential helpline for children and young people. Whenever children need us, Childline is there for them – by phone, email or live chat.

0800 1111

Read about Childline

Have NSPCC Schools Service visit your school

If you work at a primary school in the UK and would like us to deliver an assembly and workshop get in touch.

Call for Help

This Christmas, a child will contact Childline every 25 seconds. Donate now to help us answer their call.

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Get expert training and consultancy

Grow your child protection knowledge and skills with CPD certified courses delivered by our experts nationwide and online.
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Specialist and bespoke child protection courses

Training on specialist child protection subjects and courses tailored to your staff's needs.
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Child protection consultancy

Tailored safeguarding and child protection support for any organisation.
Our consultancy service

Call the NSPCC helpline

If you're worried about a child, even if you're unsure, contact our professional counsellors 24/7 for help, advice and support.

Call us or email help@nspcc.org.uk.

0808 800 5000

Report a concern

Childline

Childline is our free, confidential helpline for children and young people. Whenever children need us, Childline is there for them – by phone, email or live chat.

0800 1111

Read about Childline

Child Trafficking Advice Centre

If you work with children or young people who may have been trafficked into the UK, contact our specialist service for information and advice.

Call us or email help@nspcc.org.uk for more information.

0808 800 5000

Find out more about CTAC

FGM helpline

Helpline offering advice, information and support to anyone concerned that a child's welfare is at risk because of female genital mutilation.

0800 028 3550

Contact us by email

Modern Slavery helpline

Anyone with concerns that a child or adult is a victim of slavery can contact this helpline. The NSPCC is working together with the Government in a bid to help identify victims of slavery. The service is wholly funded by the Home Office.

0800 0121 700

Visit the website

Our Impact and evidence series

Our Impact and evidence series presents findings from our research into what works in preventing child abuse and neglect. Through sharing our evaluation findings we hope to improve services for children and families.

Find all Impact and evidence reports

Research and resources

Read our latest research, leaflets, guidance and evaluations that share what we've learned from our services for children and families.
Find research and resources

Library catalogue

We hold the UK's largest collection of child protection resources and the only UK database specialising in published material on child protection, child abuse and child neglect.

Search the library

Information Service

Our free service for people who work with children can help you find the latest policy, practice, research and news on child protection and related subjects.

For more information, call us or email help@nspcc.org.uk.

0808 800 5000

Submit an enquiry

CASPAR

Our Current Awareness Service for Practice, Policy And Research delivers free weekly email alerts to keep you up-to-date with all the latest safeguarding and child protection news.

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It's Time to demand change

Up to 90% of children who've been abused will develop mental health issues by the time they're 18.

Help us change this

Keeping children safe

Find out how you can keep children safe from abuse and other dangers, both online and in the physical world.
Learn how to keep them safe