The ‘soft’ signs of child abuse – do you know how to spot them?

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has issued draft guidelines for professionals working closely with children in a variety of settings, alerting them to the “soft” signs that might indicate child abuse.

According to this BBC article, some of the “soft” signs the NICE guidelines want professionals to be aware of are:

  • Overfriendliness towards strangers
  • Recurrent nightmares
  • Persistently seeking attention
  • Excessive clinginess
  • Low self-esteem
  • Habitual body-rocking
  • Wetting and soiling
  • Indiscriminate contact or affection seeking
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Withdrawing communication

The guidelines also suggest that other signs, such as a child who is below the age of puberty displaying overtly sexual behaviours, or parents using excessive physical punishment, are such a cause for concern that they should be reported to social services immediately.

The Deputy Chief Executive of NICE, Prof Gillian Leng, has said: “We all want professionals to be aware and recognise when they need to ask questions or follow up with colleagues about a child’s wellbeing. Not all cases will cause concern, but if we do not ask we may miss opportunities to protect children in their time of need.”

In the UK, there is much more under-recognition of child abuse than there is over-reporting of cases that turn out to be untrue. Experts hope these guidelines will encourage professionals and staff working closely with children to err on the side of curiosity and report suspected cases without hesitation.

To build your knowledge of the many signs and indicators of child abuse, we offer child protection online training for professionals working in a variety of sectors, including schools, nurseries, childminding, equestrian and dental. For more information, browse our child protection training courses here.