Physical Abuse of Children & Young People
Dfe campaign website
To use physical force that results in an injury, physical pain, or impairment. This may include hitting, beating, pushing, shoving, throwing, shaking, slapping that leaves a mark, kicking, pinching, punching, suffocation, pulling hair out, burning, or striking with an object, hands, or feet. Being made to swallow something that hurts or causes illness, i.e. forcing the taking of medicine when a child is not ill - Also known as Fabricated Induced Illness. Being made to sit or stand in uncomfortable positions or locked in small spaces.
What is the Law?
In the UK it is unlawful for a parent or carer to smack their child, except where this amounts to "reasonable punishment". This defence is laid down in Section 58 of the Children Act 2004.
Whether a smack amounts to reasonable punishment will depend on the circumstances of each case, taking into consideration factors like the age of the child and the nature of the smack. There are strict guidelines covering the use of reasonable punishment and the Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales has produced a charging standard of categorisation in order to assist prosecutors to determine the appropriate charging offence. It will not be possible for a parent/carer to rely on this defence if the physical punishment amounts to wounding, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm or child cruelty.
Cultural tradition or adults perceived ideas of parental rights to use physical force as a way of discipline must not stand in the way of protecting a child from physical abuse.
The NSPCC report that although exact numbers of physical abuse are not known, it is estimated that 1 in 4 children have been physically abused. Disabled children are 3 times more likely to be abused than non-disabled children. In 2016-17 over 6,800 children were identified as needing protection from physical abuse, with 11,000 children contacting help lines for support - 22% of those cases were referred to the Police. In 2017 7,000 ChildLine counselling sessions were about physical abuse.
Signs & Symptoms of Physical Abuse
The child may have:-
- Regular bruising anywhere on the body, including defensive bruises to the arms or bruises shaped like an instrument or hand.
- Bruises with dots of blood under the skin.
- A bruised scalp and swollen eyes from the hair being pulled violently.
- Broken bones or fractures.
- Burns or scalds, including small round burns from a cigarette or sharp edged burns.
- Bite marks usually round or oval shaped.
You may notice:-
- The child may regularly avoid taking part in sports activities or reluctant to get changed in front of others.
- Becomes withdrawn, flinches, is anxious, clingy, or suddenly behaves differently.
- May be depressed, or develop obsessive behaviour.
- Have problems sleeping, frequent nightmares, bed wetting, or soils clothes.
- There may be changes in the child's eating habits or the child may develop an eating disorder.
- The child may bully or hurt other children and become aggressive.
- They may develop risky behaviours, i.e. taking drugs, alcohol, self-harm, or have thoughts about suicide.
- The child may regularly miss nursery or school. Children have accidents, trips and falls. However, if a child regularly has injuries, you notice a pattern, or the explanation does not match the injury you should use professional curiosity and investigate to ascertain if a child is being physically abused and make a referral to Children's Social Care. Adults who physically abuse children may have emotional or behavioural problems such as difficulty controlling their anger. They may have family or relationship problems or have experienced abuse as a child. They may have parenting difficulties including unrealistic expectations of children, they may not have an understanding of a child’s needs, or have no idea how to respond to a child.
Effects of Shaking a Baby
If a baby is shaken or thrown, they may suffer non-accidental head injuries. Shaking a baby can cause fractures, internal injuries, long-term disabilities and even death.
The most serious consequence of a non-accidental head injury (NAHI) is a brain injury which can lead to learning problems, seizures, hearing and speech impairment, visual impairment or blindness, behaviour problems or changes in personality, severe brain damage, long-term disability, or even death. Babies may suffer other injuries from the abuse such as broken bones or fractures.
Good Advice to Parents/Carers on How to Discipline Without Smacking
- Provide love and emotional warmth as much as possible.
- Have clear simple rules, boundaries and explain actions to the child so they understand what is expected of them.
- Be a good role model.
- Praise good behaviour so it will increase, and ignore behaviour which is not to be repeated.
- Criticise behaviours and not the child.
- Reward good behaviour with hugs and kisses.
- Distract young children or use humour.
- Young children often respond well to a wall chart marking good behaviour, setting targets and agree on a small reward.
- Allow children some control, make joint decisions and give choices.
- If punishment is necessary, remove privileges, or take time out.
- Have a strategy in place and think about your reactions before feelings escalate.
- Seek support from the local Children's Centre or Parent Support Group.
Long Term Effects of Physical Abuse
The long term impact of child abuse is far reaching, some studies indicate that without the right support, the effects of childhood abuse can last a lifetime. These effects can be characterised by frequent crisis, failed relationships or difficulty maintaining family relationships, chaotic lifestyles, and are highly likely to have a psychiatric disorder such as depression, anxiety, personality disorders, or eating disorders.
Procedure in Lewisham
If you become aware or suspect a child is being physically abused, has an injury that is not consistent with the explanation provided, or a disclosure is made by a child, you must immediately contact the MASH Team on:-
Telephone Number: 020 8314 6660
If a child is in immediate danger call 999.
You have a duty of care to seek medical attention for the child if necessary.
Children’s Centres are able to offer a range of support for parent(s) who may be struggling to cope. You can contact your local Children’s Centre for any one of the services below:-
- Family and parenting support, including family learning and parenting courses.
- Advice on early-years education and childcare, including eligibility for free education and childcare for 2–4-year-olds.
- Child and family health services, including baby hubs and breastfeeding support.
- Volunteering and employment support, including links to Jobcentre Plus.
- Information and advice about children’s services and schools.
- Drop-in services covering health, education and a range of other areas such as debt management, counselling and SENDIASS.
- DfE, Together we can tackle child abuse