Signs of child abuse

There are lots of activities taking place for children and young people over the summer and throughout the year that are being advertised at this time of year.

These can be sports-based activities, but may also be activities such as:

  • dance,
  • martial arts,
  • performing arts,
  • music or private education lessons,
  • community, volunteering activities
  • and much more.

These activities are an important way for our children and young people to explore new interests, develop new skills and we understand that you will want your child to have fun and help them to grow and develop.

However, you also need to be aware that child abuse in any form can take place anywhere.

Child abuse can happen to any child or young person of no matter what their sex, age or background is.  The signs aren't always clear, and can change depending on the type of abuse (physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse or neglect).

Warning signs

If you’re concerned about any child, or are wondering what the warning signs of child abuse are, we’ve listed some of the things to look out for below.

Physical abuse

  • Unexplained injuries, bruises or marks
  • Injuries which have an unusual fracture or are in an unusual place on the body
  • Fear, watchfulness, over anxiety to please
  • Small round burns or bite marks
  • Frequent time off from school 

Sexual abuse

  • Sexual knowledge or comments that you wouldn't expect from a child
  • Sexual behaviour that you wouldn't expect from a child
  • Unexpected reactions, fear or wariness of people
  • Repeated urinary or genital infections
  • Pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases
  • Self-harming or recurrent abdominal pains 

Emotional abuse

  • Withdrawn, anxious behaviour, lack of self-confidence
  • Self-harm and eating disorders
  • Demanding or attention seeking behaviour
  • Not wanting to communicate
  • Repetitive, nervous behaviour such as rocking, hair twisting or scratching 


  • Dirty, scruffy or unsuitable clothes
  • No one seeks medical help when the child is ill or hurt
  • The child is smelly, unclean hair and dirty nails
  • Dental issues (bad breath)
  • The child is left alone or with unsuitable carers
  • The child is thin, pale and lacking energy
  • Lots of accidents happen to the child
  • The child is exposed to risks or dangers, such as drugs or needles being left around 

Reporting concerns

If you think a child could be at risk of harm, you should report it:


  • Staffordshire County Council's First Response Service
    please call: 0800 1313 126


  • Stoke-on-Trent's Safeguarding Referral Team 
    please call: 01782 235100


  • Always call 999 in an emergency


You do not have to give your name.  Social workers will then follow up every report, talk to other people to get a clearer picture and decide what to do from there.  Children are very rarely taken away from home – this only happens when there are real concerns that the child is not safe.

Further information

Please see our Concerned about a child page for answers to some questions you may have about child abuse and what happens after you report.

If you live in Stoke-on-Trent, you can find out more on the Stoke-on-Trent
Safeguarding Children Board's what is abuse page.