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Child abuse

Physical abuse

Physical abuse is deliberately hurting or injuring a child. This could be caused by hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating or other physical harm.

This type of abuse can leave more than physical marks on the body. Physical abuse can make children feel anxious and depressed. They may feel completely isolated and try to harm themselves or run away. It is common for children who are physically abused to have little or no self-esteem and trouble eating and/or sleeping properly. They may display signs of anger and be unable to concentrate on tasks or school work.

Children who are physically abused may be suffering from different types of abuse at the same time.

Physical abuse can impact on every aspect of a child’s life and continue to affect them into adulthood. Long-term abuse can lead to difficulties in forming close relationships, finding and sustaining a job or career, and have an impact on relationships with their own children.

Other types of physical abuse

Another type of physical abuse is when a parent or carer makes up or causes the symptoms of a serious illness in their child. They might give the child unnecessary medication and make them unwell. This is known as fabricated or induced illness (FII).

Shaking or hitting babies is a form of physical abuse which can cause non-accidental head injuries (NAHI).

Safeguarding practice guidance for professionals about bruising and injuries to non-mobile children can be found in the Devon Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures Manual.

What to look out for

There may not be a single sign or symptom to look out for, but if a child regularly has injuries, or there seems to be a pattern or you are suspicious about the explanation of an injury, this should be investigated. Find out more from the NSPCC about the signs, indicators and effects of physical abuse.

Getting help


Children and young people aged under 19 can call the confidential helpline (available 24 hours a day) or chat online with a counsellor.

0800 1111


Offers excellent advice and information about what to do if you think a child is being physically abused.

0808 800 5000

Citizens Advice

Advice about what child abuse is and where to go for support, including what steps the police, social workers and the courts can take to protect a child.

If you are worried about the safety or wellbeing of a child or young person in Devon,
please complete the request for support online form.


If you think that the child is at risk of significant harm,
contact our Front Door directly by calling 0345 155 1071.


In an emergency call 999.