What Is Considered Child Abuse?

Half a million children in the UK are believed to currently be victims of child abuse. In order to put an end to this suffering, it’s important to be able to spot the signs. This includes identifying abusive behaviour in neighbours, friends, family members, teachers, sports coaches, a partner or even yourself.

This may seem straightforward, but often it isn’t. Abusive behaviour comes in all forms and some of it often gets overlooked. Changing attitudes have helped certain types of abuse like emotional abuse to be better recognised. This post delves more into some of the less obvious forms of abuse and where to draw the line. 

Is spanking a child considered child abuse?

Many of us would agree that using physical violence against a child counts as abuse. And yet many of us were spanked as kids, or have even spanked our own kids. Is this a form of child abuse?

Some would argue that it is still abuse, however in certain parts of the UK it is still legal to spank a child – under certain conditions. An open hand must be used, and there must not be so much force as to cause bruising or cuts. It’s also worth noting that only a parent or legal guardian can spank a child, and that it must be viewed as ‘reasonable punishment’.

Any form of violence that leaves an injury, that is not carried out by a legal guardian or that is carried out liberally without ‘reasonable’ purpose can be legally considered abuse, and is worth confronting. 

What is child neglect?

Neglect is one of several safeguarding terms and is one of the most common forms of abuse. It involves depriving a child of basic needs such as not feeding them enough food, not managing their hygiene, not providing suitable clothing, not providing healthcare or leaving a child alone somewhere unsupervised.

Not taking a child to school or even depriving a child of social interaction can be viewed as neglect. This article delves more into the different types of neglect to look out for.

What is emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse can be just as damaging to a child as physical abuse – leading to anxiety and depression. It includes withholding support and affection (emotional neglect) as well as deliberately belittling, humiliating or gaslighting a child. 

This type of abuse is harder to spot as it typically goes on behind closed doors. Children who experience emotional abuse are more likely to be anxious around all adults, or may take the opposite approach of trying to desperately seek affection from other adults. They typically exhibit symptoms of anxiety or depression. 

Is shouting at kids a form of abuse?

All parents shout at their kids at some point. Is this technically a form of abuse? Shouting alone is generally not abusive behaviour, but yelling certain things at a child could be considered verbal abuse. A few examples of verbal abuse to look out for include:

  • Name-calling, swearing and insulting
  • Harshly criticising a child indirectly within earshot
  • Threatening a child with abandonment or physical violence
  • Verbally rejecting a child (such as wishing they were never born)
  • Scapegoating a child

Is using substances around a child considered abuse?

Finally, it’s worth noting that using drugs or alcohol around a child could be considered abuse – especially if it leads to neglect, violence or verbal abuse.

Drinking alcohol in front of kids is generally not a form of abuse, although letting young children drink alcohol is. Taking hard drugs in front of a child is legally considered abuse, as is giving them drugs.

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