Definitions of Abuse

London Child Protection Procedures 2021

These are the accepted statutory definitions of child abuse recognised by everyone involved in the investigation of abuse (current and non-recent) and in the protection of children.

1.3 Definitions of child abuse and neglect


As defined in ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ 2018 and ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ September 2018:


Abuse
1.3.1 A form of maltreatment of a child. Somebody may abuse or neglect a child by inflicting harm or by failing to act to prevent harm. Children may be abused in a family or in an institutional or community setting by those known to them or, more rarely, by others (e.g. via the internet). They may be abused by an adult or adults or another child or children.


Physical abuse
1.3.2 Physical abuse may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating, or otherwise causing physical harm to a child.
Physical harm may also be caused when a parent fabricates the symptoms of, or deliberately induces illness in a child.


Emotional abuse
1.3.3 Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent effects on the child’s emotional development, and may involve:
• Conveying to children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person;
• Imposing age or developmentally inappropriate expectations on children. These may include interactions that are beyond the child’s developmental capability, as well as overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child participating in normal social interaction;
• Seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another e.g. where there is domestic abuse;
• Serious bullying, causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger;
• Exploiting and corrupting children.
Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, though it may occur alone.


Sexual abuse
1.3.4 Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (e.g. rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing.
1.3.5 Sexual abuse includes non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, including online and with mobile phones, or in the production of pornographic materials, watching sexual activities or encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet). Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children.
1.3.6 In addition; Sexual abuse includes abuse of children through sexual exploitation. Penetrative sex where one of the partners is under the age of 16 is illegal, although prosecution of similar age, consenting partners is not usual. However, where a child is under the age of 13 it is classified as rape under s5 Sexual Offences Act 2003.

Neglect
1.3.7 Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and / or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development.
1.3.8 Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance misuse, maternal mental ill health or learning difficulties or a cluster of such issues. Where there is domestic abuse and violence towards a carer, the needs of the child may be neglected.
1.3.9 Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent failing to:
• Provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment);
• Protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger;
• Ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate care-givers);
• Ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment.
1.3.10 It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child’s basic emotional, social and educational needs.