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Lewisham Safeguarding Children Partnership

If you are worried about the welfare or safety of a child or young person

Email: mashagency@lewisham.gov.uk

Tel: 020 8314 6660

Emotional Abuse of Children & Young People

Working Together 2018 Definition

The persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development.

It may involve, include, or be conveyed to a child:-

  • They are worthless or unloved.
  • Inadequate.
  • Valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person.
  • Not giving the child opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or “making fun” of what they say or how they communicate.
  • Age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. These may include interactions that are beyond a child's development capability, as well as an overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child participating in normal social interaction.
  • Seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another.
  • Serious bullying (including cyber bullying),
  • Causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger
  • Exploitation or corruption of children.

Other forms of emotional abuse may be:-

  • Ignoring, e.g. withdrawal of attention or rejection.
  • Belittling, e.g. telling the child he or she is 'no good', 'worthless', 'bad', or 'a mistake'.
  • Shamming, humiliating or name-calling
  • Using extreme forms of punishment, such as confinement to a closet or dark room, tying to a chair for long periods of time etc. 
  • Emotional abuse is the 2nd most common reason for children needing protection from abuse in the UK.
  • Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, though it may not occur alone.

Passive Emotional Abuse

NSPCC. When a parent / carer denies their child the love and care they need in order to be healthy and happy. It’s known as passive abuse.

Five categories of passive emotional abuse have been identified (Barlow and Shrader McMillan 2010).

  1. Emotional unavailability
    where a parent or carer is not connected with the child and cannot give them the love that they deserve and need.
  2. Negative attitudes
    such as having a low opinion of the child and not offering any praise or encouragement.
  3. Developmentally inappropriate interaction with the child
    either expecting the child to perform tasks that they are not emotionally mature enough to do or speaking and acting in an inappropriate way in front of a child.
  4. Failure to recognise a child’s individuality
    this can mean an adult relying on a child to fulfil their emotional needs and not recognising that the child has needs.
  5. Failure to promote social adaptation
    not encouraging a child to make friends and mix among their own social peers.

Why Might Emotional Abuse Happen? 

Periods of high stress and tension, such as money worries or unemployment, can take a parent(s)/carer(s) focus away from providing the emotional support that a child needs.  Additionally to the above they may be emotionally unavailable, because they’re not around or too tired. Forget to offer praise or encouragement. Expect a child to take on too much responsibility for their age, for example caring for other family members (refer to Lewisham Young Carers).  If a parent had a bad experience when they was a child or has bad role models around them now, then this can affect how they look after their own children.

Short & Long Term Effects of Emotional Abuse

A child experiencing emotional abuse may develop social withdrawal, aggressive behaviour, may appear withdrawn may regress in their behaviour, develop sleep disorders, have nightmares, and self-harm. If unresolved these conditions can continue into adulthood and lead to more maltreatment, eating disorders, mental health issues and substance misuse disorders.

Action to take

  1. Be alert to the signs of emotional abuse.
  2. Try to speak to the child or young person alone to seek further information and clarification about what they are experiencing and how they are feeling.
  3. If the child or young person reports they are being emotionally abused you should listen to them, take their allegations seriously, and reassure them you will take action, including what the actions will be.  If the child is worried about any of your actions, including speaking to the parent / carer, explain why and how you are going to help make it better for them and discuss their concerns to reassure them.
  4. If you are not the Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL), report your concerns to your appointed DSL. If you are the DSL you should talk to the parent / carer and explain the concerns raised and inform them of the action you are going to take, i.e. make a referral to the MASH Team.

Make a Referral to MASH

If a child is in immediate risk call 999, otherwise contact the MASH Team by telephone and follow up your referral in writing within 24 hours.

MASH Team Telephone: 020 8314 6660

Email mashagency@lewisham.gov.uk

NSPCC & ChildLine

The NSPCC have had a 200% increase in 7 years in reports of emotional abuse, receiving 27 calls a day on average from children and young people.

It is important that children and young people feel safe and know who they can talk to when they are experiencing any kind of abuse.

ChildLine Number          0800 1111

Website:                       www.childline.org.uk

How Safe Are Our Children?  NSPCC Annual Report

The NSPCC have completed the most comprehensive overview of Child Protection in the UK in 2018 in their annual report. It compiles and analysis data from the across the UK to show the current child protection landscape.

Key Findings:-

  • An increase in police-recorded child sexual offences across the UK.
  • Increases in child cruelty and neglect offences in all UK nations except Scotland.
  • Increased numbers of children on child protection plans and registers over the last decade.

To read the full report click here NSPCC How Safe Are Our Children 2018

Guidance & Resources


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