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How safe are our children?

Publication date August 2020

An overview of data on abuse of adolescents

Since 2013, our annual How safe are our children? report has compiled and analysed data from across the UK to show the current child protection landscape. In 2020, for the first time, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) took on this task.1

We took this opportunity to refocus our annual report. This year we’ve looked in more detail at statistics relating to abuse perpetrated against adolescents. We’ve also included an overview of emerging data on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the safety of children and young people in the UK.

Key findings from 2020

Our 2020 report found:

  • rates of police recorded physical, sexual and online abuse offences against adolescents are higher than rates against younger children
  • rates of adolescents in care are higher than rates for younger children, with the exception in some nations of infants under the age of one
  • rates of adolescents subject to a child protection plan or on a child protection register are lower than rates for younger children
  • many of the risk factors associated with abuse and neglect have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, while the support services that would traditionally identify and respond to these concerns have been unable to see many of the children and families they work with face-to-face.

The report also includes expert insight on adolescent brain development, harmful sexual behaviour, sexting, and the importance of relationship and sex education.

Key policy calls from 2020

We’re calling on governments across the UK to:

  • ensure all children receive high quality, consistent and age-appropriate education on healthy relationships
  • work with local governments and schools to ensure steps are taken to minimise the risk of children not returning to education, given the relationship between exclusion and the risk of criminal exploitation
  • bring forward measures to regulate the online environment and keep children safe from online harms
  • invest in recovery planning that will provide local multiagency partnerships with the resources to identify and respond to the risks children and young people have experienced in lockdown
  • ensure schools are equipped to recognise and respond sensitively and consistently to students who may have experienced abuse, trauma, or adverse experiences during lockdown.

Authors: Holly Bentley, Andrew Fellowes, Stephanie Glenister, Niamh Mussen, Hannah Ruschen, Bethany Slater, Michelle Turnbull, Tom Vine, Paddy Wilson and Sarah Witcombe Hayes; with contributions from Stuart Allardyce, Dr Graeme Fairchild, Professor Catherine Hamilton-Giachritsis, Dr Jenny Lloyd, Sian Meader, Dr Emily Setty and Sally Thomas.


Office for National Statistics (ONS) (2020) Child abuse in England and Wales: January 2020. [Newport]: Office for National Statistics (ONS).
How safe are our children? 2020
Download the report (PDF)


Please cite as: Bentley, H. et al. (2020) How safe are our children?: an overview of data on adolescent abuse. London: NSPCC

An ambitious recovery and rebuilding plan is needed, so no child who has suffered is left without support, and childhoods are not derailed by the pandemic.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC CEO

Previous reports

Previous 'How safe are our children?' reports

How safe are our children? 2019

The seventh report in the series focused on data on child abuse online. It included 10 indicators measuring the range and extent of online risks, and the ability of children and parents/carers to respond to these.

> Download How safe are our children? 2019 (PDF)

How safe are our children? 2018

The sixth report included an in-depth look at findings from the NSPCC’s and O2’s annual Net Aware survey, which asked children and young people about their experiences online. It also called on the government to legislate to make children safer online.

> Download How safe are our children? 2018 (PDF)

How safe are our children? 2017

The fifth report included findings from the Crime survey for England and Wales about adults’ experiences of abuse in childhood and called for a new prevalence survey of children’s experiences of abuse and neglect.

> Download How safe are our children? 2017 (PDF)

How safe are our children? 2016

The fourth report highlighted the need for more therapeutic support for children who have experienced abuse and neglect.

> Download How safe are our children? 2016 (PDF)

How safe are our children? 2015

The third report highlighted rising reports to the police of child sexual abuse, whilst stressing that we must not lose sight of the risks posed by other forms of abuse, in particular neglect.

> Download How safe are our children? 2015 (PDF)

How safe are our children? 2014

The second report included a new indicator about public attitudes to child abuse and neglect. It also included sections on risk factors for abuse and neglect and the criminal justice response to child sexual abuse.

> Download How safe are our children? 2014 (PDF)

How safe are our children? 2013

The first report set out 19 indicators related to child abuse and child safety. It looked at the gap between the number of children in the child protection system and the number that have experienced abuse or neglect.

> Download How safe are our children? 2013 (PDF)


Please cite as:

Bentley, H. et al. (2020) How safe are our children?: an overview of data on adolescent abuse.

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