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Safeguarding and support after abuse

What is safeguarding?

‘Safeguarding’ is a word that professionals use when they’re talking about ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children and adults and protecting them from harm.

Safeguarding children means:

  • Protecting them from all forms of abuse and from being badly treated
  • Preventing actions that cause harm to their health or development
  • Making sure that they grow up in a safe environment and are properly cared for
  • Taking whatever steps are needed so that all children and young people get the best outcomes in their life

Laws about safeguarding children and child protection guidance apply to all children up to the age of 18. You can find out more about safeguarding children from the NSPCC.

Who’s responsible for safeguarding children?

Everyone is responsible for safeguarding children.

Those who work with children, including teachers, GPs, nurses, midwives, health visitors, early years professionals, youth workers, police, accident and emergency staff, paediatricians, voluntary and community workers and social workers, also have a responsibility for keeping them safe.

During your pregnancy, the professionals who care for you and your baby, including midwives and health visitors, are trained in recognising the risks and signs of abuse and neglect. They’ll often be the first to spot when an adult or child is at risk of harm, and will know whether action needs to be taken.

If they do have concerns, they’ll discuss them with you before making a referral to social care or early help services. That way they can be sure that families will receive the right services (and the right help) at the right time to make a difference. They’ll make sure that families are supported throughout the process.

Wherever possible, professionals are open and honest with families and talk to them about the process they have to follow and why.

You can find out more about how different agencies work together to support families and safeguard children here.

What is ‘child abuse’?

Child abuse is any action by another person that harms a child. It can be physical, verbal, sexual or emotional, but can just as often be about a lack of love, care and attention.

Physical abuse has been linked to aggressive behaviour in children, emotional and behavioural problems and educational difficulties. It’s important to know that differing cultural practices are not a defence for physical abuse.

Domestic abuse in pregnancy

Anyone can experience domestic abuse.  It can happen in all kinds of relationships regardless of age, race, gender identity, sexuality, disability, wealth and lifestyle. Women are more likely than men to experience episodes of domestic abuse, although both men and women can be affected. One in four women suffers domestic abuse or domestic violence at some point in their lives. This may be physical, verbal, sexual, emotional or psychological abuse.

More than a third of this abuse starts during pregnancy, and if abuse is already happening, it might get worse during pregnancy or after giving birth. Domestic abuse during pregnancy puts you and your unborn child in danger. It increases the risk of miscarriage, infection, premature birth, and injury or death to the baby.

More information on where to get help with domestic violence and abuse, especially during pregnancy, can be found here:

Remember, if you’re in immediate danger, call 999.

Around a third of all victims of partner abuse, domestic abuse and stalking are male, and one in six men over the age of 16 will experience domestic abuse at some point during their lifetime. These organisations offer help for men:

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

There are different forms of family violence. One of these is female genital mutilation, which is illegal in the UK.

What is FGM?

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed, without any medical reason for this. It’s also known as ‘female circumcision’ or ‘cutting’, and also by other terms such as sunna, gudniin, halalays, tahur, megrez and khitan, among others.

FGM is usually carried out on young girls up to the age of 15, most commonly before puberty starts. It’s very painful and can seriously harm the health of women and girls. It can also cause long-term problems with sex, childbirth and mental health.

FGM and pregnancy

Some women who have experienced FGM may find it difficult to get pregnant, and those who do get pregnant can have problems in childbirth. If you’re expecting a baby, your midwife should ask you during one of your antenatal appointments if you’ve experienced FGM. It’s really important to tell your midwife if you think it’s happened to you, so they can arrange the right care for you and you baby.

Re-infibulation, or sewing women’s genitals closed following child birth, is also illegal.

More information about FGM:

Page last reviewed: 21-03-2024

Next review due: 21-03-2027