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Safeguarding policy

Appendix 2: recognising potential abuse and neglect

Even though staff, councillors, volunteers, contractors, and consultants may have limited contact with children and adults with needs for care and support as part of their duties, everyone must be aware of the potential indicators of abuse and know about what to do if you have concerns. Recognising abuse is not easy. Everyone is unique. It is difficult to predict how behaviour may change as a result of abuse. In all forms of abuse, there are elements of emotional abuse. Some people are subjected to more than one form of abuse at any one time.

Listed below are some physical and behavioural indicators that may be commonly seen in children, young people and adults who are abused. Everyone will exhibit some of these indicators at some time. You may see one, none or several of these, but remember they are only an indication and not confirmation or proof that abuse is taking place. It is not your responsibility to decide whether or not abuse has taken place or if a child, young person or adult is at significant risk. But you must act if you have concerns and pass on the information.

Child abuse or maltreatment is:

All forms of:

  • physical ill treatment
  • sexual abuse
  • emotional ill treatment
  • neglect
  • discriminatory abuse

Abuse may consist of actual or potential harm to the child's health, survival, development, or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.

Adult abuse or maltreatment is:

All forms of:

  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • emotional or psychological abuse
  • financial or material abuse
  • self-neglect or acts of omission
  • neglect by others
  • institutional abuse
  • discriminatory abuse

Abuse may consist of a single act or repeated acts. It can occur in any relationship and may result in significant harm to, or exploitation of, the person subjected to it.

Physical Abuse:

Hitting, slapping, pushing, kicking, misuse of medication, being locked in a room, inappropriate sanctions, force-feeding, inappropriate methods of restraint, and unlawfully depriving a person of their liberty:

  • unexplained injury or injury that is not consistent with the explanation given
  • unexplained fractures/repeated admissions to hospitals
  • flinching when approached/being unwilling to cooperate with personal care
  • bruising suggesting systematic injury, in the shape of objects or finger marks

Emotional or Psychological Abuse:

Includes threats of harm or abandonment, deprivation of contact, humiliation, rejection, blaming, controlling, intimidation, coercion, indifference, harassment, verbal abuse (including shouting or swearing), and isolation or withdrawal from services or support, unexplained injury, or injury not consistent with the explanation given:

  • untypical ambivalence, deference, passivity, resignation
  • person appears anxious or withdrawn, especially in the presence of the alleged abuser
  • person exhibits low self-esteem
  • untypical changes in behaviour (for example incontinence, sleep disturbance)

Sexual Abuse:

Forcing or enticing a person to take part in sexual activities, whether or not they are aware of or consent to what is happening. May involve penetrative or non-penetrative contact and/or looking at or being involved in pornography or prostitution:

  • inappropriate sexual behaviour
  • promiscuity
  • sudden changes in behaviour
  • running away from home (Children who go missing)
  • emotional withdrawal through lack of trust in adults
  • unexplained money or gifts
  • inappropriate sexually explicit drawings or stories
  • bedwetting or soiling
  • overeating or anorexia
  • sleep disturbances
  • secrets which cannot be told
  • substance/drug misuse

Financial Abuse:

Theft, fraud, exploitation, pressure in connection with wills or property and misappropriation of property or benefits. It also includes withholding of money or unauthorised, or improper use of a person's money or property. Staff borrowing money or objects from a service user is also considered financial abuse and will be dealt with through the Council's disciplinary process:

  • lack of money, especially after benefit day
  • inadequately explained withdrawals from accounts
  • disparity between assets/income and living conditions
  • disappearance of bank statements, other documents or valuables
  • loans or credit being taken out

Discriminatory neglect:

May be a factor within any of the other categories of abuse and is motivated by oppressive and discriminatory attitudes towards a person based on their disability, race, gender, religion or belief, cultural background, sexual orientation or appearance:

  • unequal treatment
  • verbal abuse
  • inappropriate use of language
  • slurs
  • harassment
  • deliberate exclusion
  • assumptions based on stereo typical ideas held about one aspect of a person


Self-neglect and neglect by others can be characterised as not responding to a person's basic needs. Those who self-neglect often live in extreme conditions of squalor and can have a tendency to hoard:

  • has inadequate heating and/or lighting#
  • poor physical condition / appearance (e.g. ulcers, pressure sores, soiled/wet clothing)
  • is malnourished, has sudden or continuous weight loss and/or is dehydrated
  • cannot access / refuses appropriate medication or medical care
  • is not afforded appropriate privacy or dignity
  • person and/or a carer has inconsistent or reluctant contact with health and social services
  • callers/visitors are refused access
  • is exposed to unacceptable risk

Cultural Abuse:

There is an increased incidence and awareness of the need to be alert to cultural abuse. There are a number of different issues under this heading:

Honour-Based Violence is a crime, and referral to the police must always be considered. It has or may have been committed when families feel that dishonour has been brought to them, often but not always by a young female relative. The victims and the violence are often committed with a degree of collusion from family members and the community. Many victims do contact the police or other organisations but others are isolated and controlled so they cannot to seek help.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) involves procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons, with health benefit but significant physical, mental and emotional harm. The Female Genital Mutilation Act, introduced in 2003 and effective from March 2004, makes it illegal to practice FGM in the UK or to take girls who are British nationals or permanent UK residents abroad for FGM, whether or not it is lawful in another country. It makes it illegal to aid, abet, counsel or procure the carrying out of FGM abroad. It also places a legal duty on individual staff to report all incidents to the Police. It includes breast ironing. Staff should follow the flowchart on the intranet for how to do this.

Forced Marriage describes a marriage in which one or both of the parties is married without their consent or against their will. This differs from an arranged marriage, in which both parties consent to the assistance of their parents or a third party in identifying a spouse. Where there is concern that an adult at risk is being forced into a marriage they do not or cannot consent to, there will be an overlap between action taken under the forced marriage provisions and the Safeguarding Adults process. Action will be coordinated with the Police and other relevant organisations but the Police must always be contacted in the first instance as urgent action may be needed.

Last modified on 02 January 2024

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