Help with serious concerns about children
If you believe a child is in immediate danger - call the police on 999.
In many situations we know that it can be difficult to work out what to do. If you are concerned about a child, contact Children 1st's confidential helpline Parentline. We will listen and help you work through what you need to do. We’ll also let you know what support is available.
We also provide webchat during opening hours. Click the button to start:
We don't pass information to anyone unless you agree, except where a child or vulnerable adult is at risk of significant harm. If we think that's the case, we will pass on all details to the police or social work department straight away to make sure they are safe. This may include any contact information you have shared with us.
Spotting the signs of abuse and neglect
Parentline receives a number of calls from adults concerned for the welfare of a child. Among the concerns expressed are:
- I think my daughter has been sexually abused.
- I hear the neighbours hitting their kids.
- How do you know if a child has been abused?
- My son refuses to go to his Dad’s and won’t say why.
The majority of callers to the helpline want to take action to protect the children they are concerned about.
What is abuse?
There are four main types of abuse:
- Physical abuse
- Physical abuse is where children are hurt or injured. It includes hitting, kicking and beating. These can cause pain, cuts, bruising, broken bones and in extreme cases death. Read more about physical abuse.
- Sexual abuse
- Sexual abuse occurs when children are forced or persuaded into sexual acts or situations. Read more about sexual abuse.
- Neglect occurs when children’s basic needs such as food, warmth, medical care, clothing and hygiene are not met. Read more about neglect.
- Emotional abuse
- Emotional abuse includes degrading punishment, sarcasm, threats and not giving love and attention. All of these can undermine a child or young person’s confidence.
Signs to look out for if you suspect a child is being abused
- Change in personality: withdrawn, nervous, mood swings etc.
- Covering up body with layers of clothing – hiding/not allowing you to see.
- Sexually explicit language and behaviour.
- Low self-esteem/confidence.
- Changes in behaviour – bed wetting, self-harm etc.
“Abusers usually appear as ordinary people, living ordinary lives.”
Some abusers seek out positions of authority, which makes it even more difficult for young people to tell. The biggest power abusers have is the power of silence. Threats are often used and abusers can leave children feeling guilty and to blame for what is happening.
What are the effects of child abuse?
Child abuse can cause physical injury, but can also leave emotional scars. Abuse can lead to low self-esteem and feelings of guilt because children often blame themselves.
In later life, adults abused as children may find it difficult to form relationships because they are unable to trust people. All forms of abuse have a harmful effect on children and young people. Protecting children is the responsibility of every adult: if you think a child is at risk or in danger, call Parentline free, or contact your local social work department or the police.
If you have been affected by abuse of any kind, you may find the following links helpful
- Call Parentline, Children 1st's free helpline, on 08000 28 22 33 or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org We will listen and help you get the support you need.
- ChildLine – a private and confidential service for children and young people.
- Scotland's Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline - a confidential helpline to support anyone with experience of domestic abuse or forced marriage.
- Open Secret – an organisation providing confidential support to individuals and families whose lives have been impacted by childhood abuse or trauma.