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Child abuse

This advice applies to Scotland

If you believe a child is in immediate danger, call the police on 999

What is child abuse?

Child abuse is the ill-treatment of a child, causing damage to the child's health or personal development. A child can be experiencing abuse if they:

  • have been physically injured
  • are the victim of sexual abuse
  • are the victim of emotional abuse
  • are being neglected.

You are neglecting a child if you fail to take care of them properly. You might be neglecting a child if you leave them alone at home. This does not depend on the age of a child, but on the circumstances, and whether the child is at risk of being harmed. More information about child neglect can be found on the NSPCC website at www.nspcc.org.uk.

For a list of useful organisations provided help and support in dealing with Child Abuse, see Child abuse: useful organisations

Reporting child abuse

If you believe a child is in immediate danger, you should call the police on 999.

If you are worried that a child is being abused and want to report it to someone, you can contact:

  • the social work department of the local authority. There is a search tool on the Scottish Government’s WithScotland website at http://withscotland.org which you can use to find the right local authority contact number
  • the police, on the non-emergency number 101
  • the Children’s Reporter. To find the children's reporter for your area, see the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration website at www.scra.gov.uk.

The children's reporter is an official of the government body called the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA) which provides a national service. The Children's Reporter receives information about children who may need to be considered for compulsory measures of protection or supervision and decides whether a Children's Hearing needs to be held. More information about the Children's Reporter is available on the SCRA website at www.scra.gov.uk. More information about the children's hearings system is available on the Children's Hearings Scotland website at www.chscotland.gov.uk.

All of these agencies have a duty to investigate concerns about the abuse of a child.

Alternatively you could call one of the helplines listed in our further help section below, to talk over your concerns and get more information and advice about what to do next.

It may be possible to ring a helpline or agency, without giving your full name. If you do give your name, you can ask for it to be kept confidential. 

Reporting child abuse to the social work department 

When you report child abuse to the social work department of the local authority, they must look into it if they think there is a real risk to the safety or well-being of the child. The social work department will decide if the child needs protection and what needs to be done to protect them. If they decide that the child is not at risk, no further action may be taken. 

Their enquiries could last several weeks, and may involve several interviews, family visits or medical examinations. The social work department will interview the child, and may also interview anyone the child has come into contact with. Usually, the social work department will tell a child's parents that they are making enquiries. However, in some cases, they may start making their enquiries before they let the parents know.

In cases of serious abuse, and in all cases of sexual abuse, the social work department will tell the police. Occasionally, the social work department will take urgent action to have the child removed from the family home and placed in the care of the local authority.

Once they have made enquiries and consulted with others, the social work department may decide further action is needed. If they do, a case conference, attended by all relevant professionals, parents/carers and, sometimes, the child, will be called. The case conference will decide whether the child’s name needs to be placed on the child protection register.

Reporting child abuse to the police

If you report child abuse to the police, they must, by law, investigate. If the child is under 16, they will usually involve the local social work department.

As a result of police investigations, legal action may be taken against the abuser. If found guilty, they may receive a prison sentence. Those convicted of sexual abuse will be placed on the Sex Offender's Register. However, there is no guarantee that they will be found guilty. In any case, measures will be put in place to protect the victim from further abuse. More information about the Sex Offenders' Register is available on Police Scotland's website at www.scotland.police.uk.

The abuse victim may have to give evidence in court, which could be extremely upsetting. However, support is available for victims and witnesses in the form of 'special measures' to make giving evidence less traumatic. For example, you may decide not to appear in court in person but to give evidence via video or live television link. For more information on the support available to victims in court, see the Victim Support Scotland website at www.victimsupportsco.org.uk. For more information about being a victim of crime and the court process in Scotland, see Victims of crime

The British False Memory Society provides help and advice to parents and others who have been falsely accused of child sexual abuse, particularly as a result of 'false memory syndrome'. For contact details, see Child abuse: useful organisations

Other people you can report child abuse to

You can also report concerns about child abuse to a number of other people including: health visitors, doctors and other health workers, teachers and other school staff, nursery staff, education welfare officers and educational psychologists.

You should be aware that these people may have to pass on your concerns to the social work department or the police.

If you want to find out if someone is a known sex offender

Keeping Children Safe is a national child sex offender disclosure scheme. It is also known as the Sex Offender Community Disclosure Scheme. It enables parents, carers or guardians of a child under 18 to ask the police if a person who has contact with that child is a registered sex offender or poses a risk to that child. 

Police Scotland have produced an online form for the Sex Offender Community Disclosure Scheme that someone can complete to check if someone is a known sex offender.

Children suffering abuse

If you are a child suffering from abuse, you can get free, confidential help by calling ChildLine on 0800 1111. You should call the police on 999 if you are in immediate danger. 

You may also need to get urgent medical help, for example, to deal with injuries, pregnancy testing, emergency contraception or HIV tests. You can get medical help from your GP, the accident and emergency department of your local hospital or a family planning clinic. For more information on your rights to medical care, see Young people - health and personal

If you are under 16 and a health professional suspects you are being abused, they must report it to the police or the social work department, even if you don't want them to.

In some cases, it may be possible to claim financial compensation for being abused. You can get advice about this from the Scottish Child Law Centre. For contact details see, Child abuse: useful organisations.

Investigation after a report of suspected child abuse

Following investigation, the agencies will decide whether further action is needed. If it is decided that further action is needed to protect the child, a case conference is called. A case conference is a meeting attended by all the relevant agencies, the child's parents/carers and sometimes the child. The case conference will decide whether to place the child on the child protection register. 

Child protection register

The child protection register provides information to all relevant agencies (social work, education, police etc) about children who are at risk of harm, and ensures that they communicate with each other about children at risk. It also helps in identifying any future risk to the child, or other children in the household. The register is confidential. 

If the case conference decides that a child’s name needs to be placed on the child protection register, a protection plan will be put together and a decision will be made about whether the case needs to be referred to the Children’s Reporter. For more information on the Children's Reporter, see Reporting child abuse. A protection plan is a plan of what the social worker and other professionals will do to protect the child and meet their needs. 

If the child’s name does not need to be placed on the child protection register, the case will be closed or the family will be offered some form of support.

Child abuse and court proceedings

Where the social work department and/or the police consider that legal proceedings are necessary, there are two types of action which are likely:

  • a referral to the Children’s Hearing system by the children's reporter, where compulsory measures of supervision of the child will be considered
  • criminal proceedings against the alleged abuser.

For more information about the Children's Hearing system in Scotland, see Children who are looked after by the local authority, the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration website at www.scra.gov.uk and the Children's Hearings Scotland website at www.chscotland.gov.uk.

Court orders

When parents or carers do not co-operate with an investigation, or where the child is considered to be at serious risk, the local social work department may obtain a court order, such as a child protection order, to ensure the child’s safety. More information about court orders can be found on the NSPCC website at www.nspcc.org.uk.

Claiming damages for childhood abuse

There is no time limit for making a claim for compensation in the civil courts in Scotland for childhood abuse. A person who suffered abuse when they were under 18 in Scotland may be able to bring a personal injury claim to seek compensation (also known as damages), including in cases of historic abuse. However, no claim can be made for abuse that took place before 26 September 1964.

When considering taking legal action, it is important to get specialist legal advice from a solicitor about the likelihood of your claim being successful. You must also consider whether you can afford to pay for legal advice and court costs and how an award of compensation would affect any benefits you receive.

The Scottish Government and Citizens Advice Scotland have produced an information leaflet available at www.gov.scot . See also Personal injuries and Using a solicitor

The are a number of organisations that can help if you are considering bringing a claim for damages. See Child abuse: useful organisations

Re-housing because of child abuse

If you are looking after a child who is being abused, you could ask your local authority housing department to help with re-housing. However, if you do this, the local authority may make enquiries about the abuse, even if you don't want them to. Depending on the circumstances your local authority may be able to re-house your family, re-house the abuser, or re-house the abuse victim. For more information, see Children who are looked after by the local authority

There are also a number of legal measures you could take to prevent the abuser from staying in your home. If you want to do this, you should get legal advice. A local advice agency such as a law centre or Citizens Advice Bureau, should be able to help you find a local solicitor who is experienced in this area of the law. You could also search the website of the Law Society of Scotland for a local solicitor at www.lawscot.org.uk.

If you are the mother or father of a child who is being abused, and you are suffering from domestic abuse, you may be able to move to a refuge or get emergency accommodation from the local authority. If you are in this situation you should get help from an advice agency such as a local Women's aid group. You can find your nearest Women's Aid group on the Scottish Women's Aid website at www.scottishwomensaid.org.uk.

Adults who were abused as children

If you were harmed as a child or young person, the effects of this may continue for many years and you may not realise the effects until many years later. 

Child protection procedures do not apply beyond the age of 16, and adults have to contact the police. 

Organisations that provide help and support to adults who were harmed as children include: the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC), Trauma Counselling Line Scotland (TCLS) and the National Confidential Forum. See Further help below for information on services and contact details. 

There is no longer a time limit for making a claim for compensation in the civil courts in Scotland for childhood abuse. Adults who suffered abuse as children may be able to bring a personal injury claim for damages. See claiming damages for childhood abuse

Further help

Citizens Advice Bureaux

Citizens Advice Bureaux give free, confidential, impartial and independent advice to help you solve problems. Find your nearest CAB or check in your phone book.

ChildLine Scotland

ChildLine (Scotland)
18 Albion Street
Glasgow
G1 1LH

Tel: 0870 336 2910
Fax: 0870 336 2911
Freephone Helpline: 0800 1111
Email: scotland@childline.org.uk

Secure email and 1-2-1 chat messaging is available once you have signed up to 'your locker' section of the website.

All calls to ChildLine Scotland are treated confidentially, but if ChildLine Scotland suspects danger or a threat to life, they will contact the social work department or the police. They will tell the child that confidentiality has been broken. 

National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC)

National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC)
Herald House
Off Bunhill Row
15 Lamb’s Passage
London
EC1Y 8TQ

Support line: 0808 801 0331 (Monday to Thursday 10am -9pm, Friday 10am-6pm. This number is free from landlines and mobiles but will not show on a phone bill)
Email: Contact form on website
Website: https://napac.org.uk

NAPAC is an organisation which can provide advice to adults who were abused in childhood. It can refer you to local counselling, support and help groups, and also has its own support line. 

NSPCC helpline

National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
42 Curtain Road
London
EC2A 3NH

Tel: 020 7825 2500
Helpline: 0808 800 5000
Textphone: 0800 056 0566
Helpline fax: 020 7825 2750
E-mail: help@nspcc.org.uk
Website: www.nspcc.org.uk

The NSPCC provides advice and support to adults who are concerned about the safety or welfare of a child. The NSPCC counsellors may refer the case to the police or the social work department if this is necessary but you can decide to remain anonymous if you wish.

ParentLine Scotland

ParentLine Scotland
Helpline: 0800 028 2233 (Mon-Fri 9.00am-9.00pm)
Email: parentlinescotland@children1st.org.uk
Website: www.children1st.org.uk

ParentLine Scotland is a free, confidential helpline for parents and carers. It allows people to talk and express their feelings in anonymity, if they wish, and gives callers the opportunity to ‘offload’ and receive support and information.

The National Confidential Forum

Helpline: 0800 121 4773 or 0141 352 2333 (Mon-Fri 9am-4.30pm)
Email: information@nationalconfidentialforum.org.uk
Website: www.nationalconfidentialforum.org.uk

The National Confidential Forum has been set up to listen to and acknowledge the experiences of adults who were in institutional care in Scotland as children. Institutional care includes children’s homes, hospital wards for children and boarding schools. It is hoped that lessons can be learned from the testimony given and that this can help prevent harm to children in young people in institutional care now and in the future.

Trauma Counselling Line Scotland (TCLS)

Trauma Counselling Line Scotland
Tel: 08088 020 406 (freephone) (Monday to Wednesday 5.00pm to 8.00pm, Thursday and Friday 9.00am to 2.00pm). You can leave a message at all other times. 
Email: contactus@health-in-mind.org.uk or contact form on the website
Website: www.health-in-mind.org.uk/services/counselling/tcls.html

TCLS provides free confidential telephone counselling to any adult who was abused in childhood.  

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