Safeguarding Children training for Volunteers

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Session Overview

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the different forms of child abuse (physical, emotional, sexual abuse and neglect)
  • Describe how common child abuse is and the impact it can have on a child or young person
  • Indicate what you should do if you do have concerns about child abuse
  • Describe the risks associated with the internet and online social networking
  • Describe what the term ‘looked-after child’ means
  • Recognise possible signs of child abuse that you might come across in your volunteering role


Why is Safeguarding Children Important?

The objective of this session is to give volunteers an awareness about safeguarding children.

For most people, even thinking about the abuse of children is distressing, so it is important to know what to do if you are concerned that a child or young person might be, or has been, abused. Some of this may not apply to you. If you are unsure about whether something is relevant to your volunteering role, you must speak to your Manager.

Why is this important, even if you do not volunteer with children?

Protecting children from harm is important in everyday life because every child matters. If you only volunteer with adults, you need to be aware that those adults they may at some point disclose important information about children or even their own childhood.

Rights of the Child

Children have rights whatever their race, religion or abilities, whatever they think or say, and whatever type of family they come from.

Children have the right to be protected from being hurt and abused, whether physically or mentally.

The law ensures that children are properly cared for and protect them from violence, abuse and neglect by their parents, carers or anyone else who comes into contact with them.

All children have the right to:

  1. Survival
  2. Develop to the fullest
  3. Develop fully in family, cultural and social life
  4. Health and healthcare
  5. Protection from all forms of violence

Safeguarding for Staff and Volunteers

Organisations have a duty in law to ensure that they safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people, and this means that all staff and volunteers have an important role to play. This includes being able to recognise signs of possible child abuse and neglect.

Unfortunately, many children in the UK do not grow up in satisfactory conditions. Some children and their families need extra help to allow them to reach their full potential. Recent high-profile cases have highlighted just how cruelly some children can be treated by others.

In order to carry out their duty to safeguarding children, all staff and volunteers need to be able to understand and recognise signs of children being harmed.

As a volunteer, you have:

  • Aduty of care. It is your duty to identify and report any concerns, not to take action or investigate further
  • responsibilityto be aware of the Prevent strategy and an obligation to report concerns. As part of your volunteer training you may also be asked to complete the Prevent training session.

Child Abuse

Someone may abuse or neglect a child or young person by inflicting harm, or by failing to act in preventing harm. This harm may be physical or psychological and will affect the child’s or young person’s current and future well-being.

Do you think a child is more likely to be abused by a stranger or someone they know?

Children and young people may be abused in a family, or in an institutional or wider community setting. The abuser(s) may be someone known to the child or, more rarely, a stranger. More often than not the person responsible for the abuse has a close relationship with the abused child.

Any child can be at risk of abuse regardless of their age, sex, ethnicity, ability or disability. Those most at risk are babies and young children, those with learning difficulties and those with physical disabilities. Young people are also at risk of abuse and they may respond in ways that put them at further risk of harm, for example, by running away.

Children are hurt by adults of any age, class, sex, race and sexual orientation. The following factors may increase the likelihood of abuse:

Stress – Possibly caused by financial problems and difficulties in the parents’ relationships. This can reduce some adults’ ability to control aggressive feelings towards their children or to care for their children properly.

Social disadvantage – For example: living on a low income in inadequate housing or being discriminated against because of ethnicity, religion, disability or sexual orientation. All of these factors could affect the parents’ ability to care for their children properly.

Mental illness, substance abuse and domestic abuse  – In these circumstances parents can often struggle to take care of their own needs and may find it particularly difficult to meet their children’s needs.

Intellectual/physical disability of the child – Children are at increased risk of developmental delay, neglect and abuse.

Types of Child Abuse

Child abuse can be divided into four main categories:

  • Physical abuse
  • Neglect
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse

Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of abuse, although it may also occur alone.

Please remember that categories frequently overlap and should not be seen in isolation.

There are many other forms of harm inflicted on children and young people such as modern slavery, trafficking, honour-based violence, forced marriage and child sexual exploitation (CSE). As part of your volunteer training you may also be asked to complete the session Training for Volunteers: Child Sexual Exploitation.

Other forms of abuse include:

  • Bullying
  • Online Abuse
  • Living in a home where there is domestic violence
  • Radicalisation
  • Being in an abusive relationship (Young people)
  • Female genital mutilation

These will be looked at in more detail later in this chapter.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating, or anything else that causes physical harm to a child. Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or carer makes up the symptoms of, or deliberately causes, illness in a child

How common is physical abuse?

When asked, 7-8% of young people had experienced some form of physical violence by their parents or guardians during childhood

How does physical abuse impact on a child?

  • The child will feel immediate pain and suffering
  • There may be medical problems caused by the physical injury
  • The emotional pain will last long after the bruises and wounds have healed
  • The longer physical abuse of a child occurs, the more serious the impact: chronic physical abuse or a single episode of severe physical abuse can result in long-term physical disabilities, including brain damage, hearing loss or eye damage
  • In severe instances, children can die from physical abuse

What are the signs of physical abuse?

Some of the common signs can be:

  • Bruising – especially in areas that are not usually injured
  • Cuts and scratches – especially in areas that are not usually injured
  • Bite marks
  • Burns and scalds
  • Broken bones – without a good explanation
  • Shaken babies (abusive head trauma) – causes bleeding into the brain so the baby may be unconscious or fitting
  • Signs of physical abuse can also be more subtle: a child may be fearful, shy away from touch, be reluctant to change for PE or appear to be afraid to go home


What always needs to be taken into account?

  • The child’s age and stage of development, for example, a baby who can’t sit up yet should not have bruises anywhere unless there is a clear history of trauma such as a car accident. However, a school-aged child will usually have a couple of bruises on their shins caused during normal play
  • The child’s explanation (where this is possible) and the parent or carer’s explanation for the injury. In abuse, the parent’s explanation may not fit with the injury seen, seem very vague, or change every time they are asked about the injury. The child may have been ‘trained’ to echo the parent’s explanation


Neglect is on-going failure to meet a child’s basic needs, likely to result in serious harm to the child’s health or development. This may or may not be deliberate.

When might neglect occur? 

Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal alcohol/substance abuse.

Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to:

  • Provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment)
  • Protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger
  • Ensure adequate supervision (including the use of other irresponsible adults)
  • Ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment

It may also include neglect of, or not responding to, a child’s basic emotional needs

How common is neglect? When asked, roughly 15% of young people had been neglected at some point in their childhoods.

What are the signs of neglect?

Physical signs:

  • Ill-fitting, dirty clothes and shoes
  • Not dressed warmly enough in cold weather
  • Appearing very dirty, with matted and unwashed hair or smelling bad
  • Untreated or delayed treatment for illnesses and physical injuries

Behavioural signs:

  • Unsupervised young children playing outside
  • Left alone at home
  • Frequently late for school
  • Troublesome, disruptive behaviour, or withdrawn and passive
  • Running away from home – in the case of adolescents

How does neglect impact on a child or young person?

Examples include:

  • Always feeling hungry, perhaps not growing properly
  • Being rejected at school by other children because of their dirty clothes and smell
  • Living in a filthy house without a clean bed to sleep in, no proper bedtime and therefore always feeling tired
  • Not getting medical care when needed

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is the on-going bad treatment of a child that causes severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development.

What does this involve?

This can include:

  • Making children feel they are worthless, unloved, inadequate, or valued only when they meet the needs of another person
  • Not giving the child opportunities to express their views, silencing them or ‘making fun’ of what they say or how they communicate
  • Living with domestic abuse in the home

All types of harm to a child involve some level of emotional abuse but emotional abuse may also occur in isolation. Parents from all types of background may emotionally abuse their children.

How does emotional abuse impact on a child?

The child or young person may feel:

  • That he or she is not worthy of being loved by anyone
  • A poor sense of well-being, self-image and self-esteem
  • A poor sense of security, and difficulty in trusting others
  • That it is hard to feel happy
  • Responsible for the abusive parent’s anger or unhappiness

What are the signs of emotional abuse?

It’s not always easy to identify when a child is being emotionally abused. Some of the ways children react to emotional abuse are:

  • Having low self-confidence and a poor self-image
  • Being withdrawn, unable to trust others and having difficulty when forming relationships
  • Being delayed emotionally, socially or academically
  • Becoming anxious, depressed, demanding, aggressive, destructive or even cruel
  • Displaying increased risk-taking behaviour


What actions of a parent/carer are emotionally abusive?

Parents or carers may:

  • Say things to the child over and over again until the child believes he or she is ‘no good’, ‘worthless’, ‘bad’ or ‘a mistake’
  • Speak to the child in a terrifying way such as shouting, swearing, threatening or bullying
  • Humiliatethe child by making sarcastic comments, negative comparisons to others, or shame a child in private or public
  • Terrorise the child, e.g. threatening to use a knife or other means in order to hurt, torture or kill a pet, a loved one or the child themselves
  • Force a child to watch violent acts, threaten him or her with abandonment or place the child in dangerous situations
  • Reject the child, withhold affection or refuse to acknowledge the child’s presence and accomplishments
  • Isolate the child by restricting contact with others
  • Corrupt the child by encouraging anti-social or delinquent behaviour
  • Young people may be emotionally abused by peers at school or intimate partners

Sexual Abuse

How do you know if a child has been/is being sexually abused?

What is sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse involves forcing or persuading a child or young person to take part in sexual activities. It does not necessarily involve a high level of violence, and the child may or may not be aware of what is happening.

The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative assault (for example, masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing).

Sexual abuse may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet).

Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males; women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children [1].

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is a type of sexual abuse where the child or young person receives something (e.g. money, food, shelter, drugs) in return for sexual activities. There is a power imbalance between the perpetrator/abuser and victim.

What are the signs of sexual abuse?

More often than not, boys and girls who present with an allegation or a history of sexual abuse do not have any physical signs when examined by a specialist doctor. This is because the abuse may have taken place some time before the examination and injuries to the genital area heal very quickly or because the abuse was non-penetrative (for example, kissing or touching).

The child’s behaviour may suggest sexual abuse if he or she:

  • Becomes anxious about going to a particular place or seeing a particular person
  • Suddenly starts having behaviour problems such as being aggressive
  • Suddenly starts having extreme mood swings such as brooding, crying or fearfulness
  • Has a sudden deterioration in school results
  • Displays unexpectedly explicit sexual knowledge for their age, including inappropriate sexualised behaviour
  • Starts wetting the bed again, having previously been dry by night

Young victims of sexual abuse in the home or with an intimate partner or gang, are more likely to:

  • Do poorly at school
  • Abuse alcohol or drugs
  • Self harm
  • Have sex with numerous partners
  • Continue the patterns of violence into future relationships

Many children and young people do not tell anyone about sexual abuse.

What is the impact of sexual abuse on a child or young person?

The commonest reaction that a child feels is shame. They may have tried to tell someone but not have been believed. They may have even been blamed for what has happened. Many sexually abused children wait until they are much older to tell anyone what has happened to them, or they sometimes never tell.

Many young people who are sexually abused by their partner are afraid to tell friends and family.

What are the characteristics of a child sex abuser?

Usually the perpetrator or abuser is a family member or someone known to the child, such as a family friend. For young people, it is commonly a boyfriend or girlfriend. Child sex abusers can come from any professional, racial or religious background, and can be male or female.

Abusers may act alone or as part of an organised group. After the abuse, they will put the child under great pressure not to tell anyone about it. They will go to great lengths to get close to children and win their trust, such as choosing employment that brings them into contact with children, or by pretending to be children in internet chat rooms intended for children and young people. Child sex abusers are sometimes referred to as ‘paedophiles’ or ‘sex offenders’, especially when they are not family members or intimate partners in young people’s relationships.

Effects of Child Abuse

Abuse and neglect can have major effects on all aspects of a child’s health, development and well-being. The impact of any abuse will vary from child to child depending on the:

Nature of the Abuse Duration of the abuse
Age of the child Individual child’s reaction to the abuse
Home/Family environment Impact and speed of any intervention
Consequences of the intervention Professional response and support


Abuse and neglect during childhood increases the risk of:

  • Drug and alcohol misuse
  • Poor physical/mental health
  • Early and multiple sexual relationships and teen pregnancy
  • Risk of perpetrating or being a victim of domestic violence
  • Difficulty with job performance
  • Relationship problems
  • Likelihood of going to prison

On the positive side, many children and young people, despite having suffered from abuse, overcome this adversity and go on to enjoy successful and contented lives.

Your Role in Safeguarding

As a volunteer you may come into contact with children, young people and their families or carers. You have a responsibility to play your part in keeping children safe.

Remember that you are not alone if you have concerns about child abuse. Contact your volunteer coordinator or supervisor if you are concerned. Be aware that the key members in your local child safeguarding team are:

  • Teachers
  • Health and social care workers
  • Police
  • Staff in voluntary agencies (such as the NSPCC)

Remember that you are not alone if you have concerns about child abuse. Contact your volunteer coordinator or supervisor if you

Sharing Information

By sharing information, agencies are able to assess the level of risk the child might be exposed to. They can then together decide what the next steps will be – either supporting the child and family or, if there is a greater risk, taking action to protect the child from further harm.

Looked-after Children

Most children stay with their parents after a child safeguarding enquiry. They are closely monitored for a variable period of time to ensure that the support offered to the children and parents/carers is making a positive difference to the child’s life.

Occasionally, the local authority becomes responsible for a child’s welfare. This is a legal process and the decision is taken by a judge after all the evidence is presented. These children and young people are called ‘looked-after children’. Looked-after children may be taken into care or may still be allowed to stay at home with their parents. In both cases, it is the local authority who makes decisions about their care.


Session Summary

Key Points

  • All children have the right to grow up in a secure and loving environment that caters for all aspects of their development including physical, intellectual, social, emotional, behavioural and sexual development
  • Child abuse is the maltreatment of a child through action or lack of proper care by parents or adult carers
  • There are four categories of child abuse:
    • Physical abuse
    • Emotional abuse
    • Neglect
    • Sexual abuse
  • Domestic abuse damages children and may indicate that there are other types of child abuse occurring
  • Multiple forms of abuse may be affecting the child
  • Any type of abuse can cause long-term damage to a child both during childhood and in later life
  • It is a volunteer’s responsibility to immediately raise any safeguarding concerns


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