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What is child abuse?

What is Child Abuse

Child abuse can happen in different ways.  A child can be physically injured, for example by shaking, punching, hitting or kicking or by any other means involving violence. They can be abused sexually, which means they have been subjected to inappropriate sexual behaviour or language by others.

Emotional abuse, where a child is constantly criticised, ignored or humiliated, also causes harm. Neglect is another form of abuse, where a child is not properly fed, cared for, clothed, kept clean or safe or does not receive medical treatment when they need it.

Children who are exposed to Domestic Abuse is another form of abuse. This is where one person hurts or bullies another person who is or was their partner or who is in the same family.

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is a form of sexual abuse that involves the manipulation and/or coercion of young people under the age of 18 into sexual activity in exchange for money, gifts, accommodation, affection or status. Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) (PDF) [321KB] (opens new window)

Contextual safeguarding is an approach that helps to create an understanding responds to, children and young people's experiences of significant harm caused by someone out with their family.

What signs may indicate child abuse?

Children who have been abused rarely tell, but there are signs that may cause you to worry about a child. The child may have unexplained bruising, or bruising in unusual places, they may seem afraid, quiet or withdrawn, be afraid to go home, or seem hungry, tired or unkempt. You may be concerned if a child is left alone or unsupervised, has too much responsibility for their age, is acting in a sexually inappropriate way or is misusing drugs or alcohol.

You may also see an adult act in a way that makes you worry about any children they care for. For example, an adult may be acting violently or sexually towards a child or someone else, misusing drugs or alcohol when the child is in their care or be verbally abusive towards a child.

Children and young people that are the victims of exploitation and harm caused by someone out with their family, often do not recognise that they are being exploited. However, there are a number of signs that a child may be being at risk. These include:

  • missing for periods of time or returning home late regularly
  • missing school or not taking part in education
  • having unexplained gifts or new possessions
  • associating with other young people involved in exploitation
  • having older boyfriends or girlfriends
  • suffering from sexually transmitted infections
  • changes in emotional wellbeing
  • drug and alcohol misuse
  • inappropriate sexualised behaviour.


Child Protection

Children and young people have the right to feel safe and cared for and when a concern is raised, Social Work and/or the Police have a duty to investigate this. A Child Protection Investigation may be carried out by Social Work.  A Pre Birth Child Protection Investigation may be carried out for concerns relating to an unborn baby.

South Ayrshire's Child Protecion Procedures reflect both the National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland (2014) and the West of Scotland Child Protection Consortium Inter-Agency Child Protection Procedures (2015).

The National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland (2014) has been updated and known as National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland (2021)