Child Protection: frequently asked questions

What is child abuse?

Children can be abused in different ways. They 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 or sheltered, 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.

What signs might indicate that a child is being abused?

Children who have been abused rarely tell, but there are signs which may make you worry that a child has been abused. The child may have unexplained bruising, or bruising in an unusual place, seem afraid, quiet or withdrawn, be afraid to go home, or seem hungry, tired or unkempt.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 behaviour in an adult which 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 while caring for a child or be verbally abusive towards a child.

Children and young people that are the victims of exploitation, in particular child sexual exploitation, often do not recognise that they are being exploited. However, there are a number of tell-tale signs that a child may be being groomed for exploitation. These include:

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

Who should I speak to if I have a concern?

If you have concerns about a child or young person please contact the Council’s Social Work Child Protection Services on 01292 267675 or call Ayrshire Out of Hours on 0800 328 7758. Alternatively you could speak to a health visitor, teacher, nursery worker, family doctor, social worker, police officer or the Children's Reporter.

If the child is in immediate danger, you should always contact the police.

What will happen next if I report suspected child abuse?

We treat all information seriously and will act on what you tell us. We may check the records we already hold, or gather new information. We may speak to the child and family to help assess the situation.

The first priority for everyone is making sure that the child is safe. If extra help is needed to support a family in looking after their child safely staff from agencies like health, education, social work services will all work together and plan out how best to provide this.

We will make sure the child is safe, and we will get back in touch to let you know that we have taken the appropriate action.

What will happen to the child and family if I share my concerns with someone?

Once we have finished our enquiries there are a range of things which might happen. We may decide that no action is needed. We may offer the family support, or put them in touch with other agencies which can provide them with services. In some cases it may be necessary to take legal action to protect the child (emergency protection measures such as Child Protection Order or Referral to the Children’s Hearing System).

Will I have to give my name?

No. However, remaining anonymous may cause difficulties in establishing whether or not a child is at risk. All information received will be treated with discretion. Any details received, including your name, will not be revealed unless the child’s safety requires this.

I am being abused or have been abused in the past. Who can help me?

You can call Childline free on 0800 1111 at any time, to talk about any problem. You can also visit www.survivorscotland.org.uk for information. You could also speak to a health visitor, teacher, nursery worker, family doctor, social worker, police officer, children's reporter or any adult you feel you can trust.

I am finding it difficult to cope with my child, what can I do?

You can call Parent Line Scotland, a free telephone helpline for anyone caring for children in Scotland, on 0808 800 2222. You can talk to the Council's Social Work Child Protection Team on 01292 267675 anytime. You could speak to a health visitor, teacher, nursery worker, your family doctor or a member of the duty/child protection team. All of these people can help you to find the support you need to take care of your child.