Protecting children from abuse
Volunteers at the Young Archaeologists’ Club come into contact with many thousands of children each year. We believe that it is always unacceptable for a child to experience abuse of any kind, and recognise that it is our responsibility to safeguard the welfare of children, through a commitment to practice which protects them.
The information below is designed to provide protection for the children and young people involved in YAC, and to provide guidance for YAC volunteers on what to do if they suspect that a child may be experiencing, or may be at risk of harm.
We use the words ‘child’ and ‘children’ throughout this guidance to mean any person under the age of 18.
Who to contact if you have a concern about a child
YAC has a Designated Safeguarding Officer, who is the person to whom all concerns about child protection should be reported. It is their responsibility to manage all such issues and to liaise with relevant statutory bodies, such as the police and children’s social care.
YAC’s Designated Safeguarding Officer is Mike Heyworth (Director of the Council for British Archaeology) on 01904 671 417 or on 07793 817 510 if it’s outside office hours. If you’re not able to speak to Mike straight away, leave a message saying that you have a child protection problem and giving your contact details, and he will return your call as soon as possible.
If you are unable to contact us, or if for any reason you do not feel free to do so, then please contact the NSPCC Helpline for further advice on 0808 800 5000. In case of emergency, your first contact should always be the police.
What is child abuse?
It is a sad truth that many thousands of children across the UK suffer from abuse and neglect. While it can make difficult reading, understanding the basic information below will help you to understand how to provide a supportive environment for the children at your Branch, and how to respond if you discover or suspect that one of them may be suffering harm. Do talk to the other volunteers in your team if you find this a difficult issue, and remember that you are always welcome to contact YAC HQ if you’d like advice, information, or just a friendly ear. If you find the information below particularly distressing, you might find it helpful to speak to the Samaritans on 116 123; or if it raises any issues from your own childhood, call the National Association for People Abused in Childhood on 0800 085 3330.
Abuse and neglect are forms of maltreatment of a child. Somebody may abuse or neglect a child either directly by inflicting harm, or indirectly by failing to prevent harm. Children may be abused in a family or in an institutional or community setting; by people they know; or, more rarely, by a stranger. They may be abused by an adult or adults, or by another child or children.
There are four types of child abuse:
Physical abuse is violence causing injury or regularly occurring during childhood. It happens when a child is hurt or injured by being hit, shaken, squeezed, thrown, burned, scalded, bitten or cut; when someone tries to drown or suffocate a child; when someone gives a child poison, alcohol or inappropriate drugs; and when someone fabricates the symptoms of, or deliberately induces illness in, a child. In some cases it will be caused deliberately. In others it may be accidental, but caused by the child being knowingly put at risk.
Sexual abuse occurs when someone uses power or control to involve a child in sexual activity in order to gratify the abuser’s own sexual, emotional or financial needs or desires. It may include forcing or enticing a child to take part in sexual activities, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening; encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways; showing children pornographic material or involving them in the production of such material; and involving children in watching other people’s sexual activity or in inappropriate discussions about sexual matters.
Emotional abuse is persistent or severe emotional ill-treatment of a child that is likely to cause serious harm to her/his development. It may include persistently denying a child love and affection; regularly making a child feel frightened by shouts, threats or other means; hurting another person or a pet in order to distress a child; being so overprotective towards a child that s/he is unable to develop or lead a normal life; exploiting or corrupting a child, for example by involving her/him in illegal behaviour; and conveying to a child the message that s/he is worthless, unlovable, inadequate, or that her or his only value is to meet the needs of another person. This may or may not include racist, homophobic or other forms of abuse.
Neglect involves persistently failing to meet a child’s physical, psychological or emotional needs. It may include failing to ensure that a child’s basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, health care, hygiene and education are met; or failing to provide appropriate supervision to keep a child out of danger. This could include a lack of supervision in particular activities or leaving a child alone in the house.
Recognising a possible case of abuse
Recognising child abuse is not easy. It is not your responsibility to investigate, to decide whether or not child abuse has taken place or if a child is at significant risk of harm from someone. We do however have a duty to act if we are concerned in order that the appropriate agencies can take necessary action. The following information should help you to be alert to the signs of possible abuse. If you have concerns about a child, speak to Mike at YAC HQ, or, if you prefer, to the NSPCC Helpline.
Most children collect cuts and bruises as part of daily life. Injuries should always be interpreted in the light of the child’s medical and social history, developmental stage, and the explanation given. Most accidental bruises are seen over bony parts of the body, such as elbows, knees and shins, and are often on the front of the body. Some children, however, will have bruising that is more likely inflicted rather than accidental. Important indicators of physical abuse are bruises or injuries that are either unexplained or inconsistent with the explanation given, or visible on the ‘soft’ parts of the body where accidental injuries are unlikely, such as the cheeks, abdomen or back. A delay in seeking medical treatment where it is obviously necessary is cause for concern.
The physical signs of abuse may include:
- Unexplained bruising, marks or injuries
- Multiple bruises in clusters
- Cigarette burns
- Human bite marks
- Broken bones
- Scalds with upward splash marks
- Multiple burns with a clearly demarcated edge.
- Changes in behaviour that can also indicate physical abuse include:
- Fear of parents being approached for an explanation
- Aggressive behaviour or severe temper outbursts
- Flinching when approached or touched
- Withdrawn behaviour
Adults who use children to meet their own sexual needs abuse both boys and girls of all ages. Usually, in cases of sexual abuse it is the child’s behaviour that may cause you to become concerned, although physical signs may also be present. In all cases, children who tell about sexual abuse do so because they want it to stop. It is important, therefore, that they are listened to and taken seriously.
It is also important to remember that it is not just adult men who sexually abuse children: there are increasing numbers of allegations of sexual abuse against women, and sexual abuse can also be perpetrated by other children or young people.
The physical signs of sexual abuse may include:
- Pain or itching in the genital area
- Bruising or bleeding in the genital area
- Sexually transmitted disease
- Vaginal discharge or infection
- Stomach pains
- Discomfort when walking or sitting down
- Changes in behaviour that can also indicate sexual abuse include:
- Sudden or unexpected changes in behaviour
- Fear of being left alone with a specific person or group of people
- Having nightmares
- Running away from home
- Sexual knowledge which is beyond their age or developmental level
- Sexual drawings or language
- Eating problems such as overeating or anorexia
- Self-harm or mutilation, sometimes leading to suicide attempts
- Saying they have secrets they cannot tell anyone about
- Substance or drug abuse
- Suddenly having unexplained sources of money
- Not being allowed to have friends
- Acting in a sexually explicit way towards adults
Emotional abuse can be difficult to identify, as there are often no outward physical signs. There may be a developmental delay due to a failure to thrive and grow, although this will usually only be evident if the child puts on weight in other circumstances, for example then hospitalised or away from their parent’s care. Even so, children who appear well-cared for may nevertheless be emotionally abused by being taunted, put down or belittled. They may receive little or no love, affection or attention from their parents or carers. Emotional abuse can also take the form of children not being allowed to play or mix with other children.
Changes in behaviour which can indicate emotional abuse include:
- Neurotic behaviour e.g. sulking, hair-twisting, rocking
- Being unable to play
- Fear of making mistakes
- Sudden speech disorders
- Fear of parent being approached regarding their behaviour
- Developmental delay in terms of emotional progress.
Neglect can be a difficult form of abuse to recognise, yet have some of the most lasting and damaging effects on children.
The physical signs of neglect may include:
- Constant hunger, sometimes stealing food from other children
- Constantly dirty or ‘smelly’
- Loss of weight, or being constantly underweight
- Inappropriate clothing for the conditions
- Changes in behaviour which may also indicate neglect include:
- Complaining of being tired all the time
- Not requesting medical assistance and/or failing to attend appointments
- Having few friends
- Mentioning being left alone or unsupervised.
These descriptions and indicators are not meant to be definitive, but only to serve as a guide. It is important too, to remember that many children may exhibit some of these indicators at some time, and that the presence of one or more should not be taken as proof that abuse is occurring. There may well be other reasons for changes in behaviour such as a death or the birth of a new baby in the family, or relationship problems between parents/carers. In assessing whether indicators are related to abuse or not, authorities will always want to understand them in relation to the child’s development and context.
Remember, if you have any concerns that you would like to discuss please contact Mike at YAC HQ, or speak anonymously to the NSPCC on 0808 500 8000.
This guidance is taken from the Council for British Archaeology’s Child protection policy and procedures. For more information contact YAC HQ on firstname.lastname@example.org.