If you report child abuse to the police

This advice applies to England. See advice for Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales

If you report concerns about child abuse to the police, the case will be dealt with by a specialist child abuse investigation team.

The police should notify the local council’s child protection team if an offence has been committed against a child. A social worker might offer support to the child's family if they think it's necessary.

The police might also:

  • take the child away from their home in an emergency - this is called 'placing them under police protection'

  • share information with the local authority, schools, and health services visit and speak to the child, either with or without parental permission

  • visit the home where the child lives or where the offence took place

  • search for and seize evidence of the offence

  • arrange a medical examination of a child

  • take statements from potential witnesses

Placing a child under police protection

The police can place a child under police protection for up to 72 hours if they have a good reason to believe that the child is suffering harm or at risk of significant harm. 

The police don't need a court order to place a child under police protection. They have to contact the local council who will take responsibility for the child. The council will decide if the child needs to be placed in foster care or if they can stay with other family members. 

The child’s parents are usually told where the child is staying but, in some cases where there’s a great risk, they might not be told. 

Social workers decide:

  • how much contact the parents should have with their child 

  • what happens at the end of the police protection

If social workers don’t raise any further concerns, the child must be returned to their parents. If there are further concerns, the local council might ask for a court order to give them more time to investigate.

You can find out more about getting court orders to protect children.

Arranging a medical examination

The police might want the child to be medically examined by a specialist doctor. If the child is very young, the parents have to give permission for a medical examination. On rare occasions, a social worker may seek a court order for an examination to take place if a parent won’t allow it. 

If the child is older, the doctor must be sure they’re able to give their consent for the examination.

Police and social workers might attend the examination along with the child’s parents.

Taking statements from witnesses

The police can ask anyone who knows about a crime to give a statement. A statement is usually a written account of what happened. 

If you’re asked to give a statement, a police officer will ask you questions and write down what you tell them. You’ll be asked to read the statement and sign it to say it’s true. Your statement might be used as evidence in court.

The police sometimes record statements on video instead of in writing - for example, when a child gives a statement.

Deciding whether to prosecute

After the investigation, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will decide whether to charge anyone with a criminal office.

They might decide not to charge someone if, for example:

  • there isn't enough evidence that they committed a crime

  • charging them wouldn't be best for the child

Going to court as a witness

If a case goes to court witnesses have to give evidence - this includes children. 

You can find out more about going to court as a witness.

Keeping the child’s identity secret

Details about the child can’t be published during their lifetime if it could lead to them being identified. This includes their name and address or photographs of them.

Page last reviewed on 02 July 2021