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Statistics on child abuse

How many children in the UK experience abuse or neglect?

We don't know exactly how many children in the UK experience abuse, although we can use different information sources to build a picture of the scale of child abuse.

But abuse is usually hidden from view. Adults may not recognise the signs that a child is being abused and children may not recognise that what is happening to them is abuse – or they may be too young, too scared or too ashamed to tell anyone.

What service data tells us

A number of services record information about child abuse. For example:

  • children's services record data about the number of children they come into contact with and work with due to concerns about abuse. This includes the number of children who are the subject of a child protection plan or on a child protection register
  • police forces record data on the number of offences committed against children
  • criminal courts record data on the number of offenders convicted of child abuse offences
  • local registrars, coroners and procurators fiscal record the number of deaths caused by abuse.

National and local services run by organisations, like our Childline and NSPCC Helpline services, also record data about the services they deliver.

But many children never come to the attention of these services and so the figures they provide significantly underestimate the scale of abuse.

Research about the scale of child abuse

The findings from research studies that survey children and adults about their experiences of abuse can help us estimate the prevalence of child abuse (the proportion of a population who were abused during childhood).

These findings usually reveal much higher numbers of children who have been abused than statistics from services that work with children. This gives an indication of how much child abuse doesn't come to the attention of authorities.

Many children don't tell anyone about the abuse at the time because they are scared of the consequences or because they are unsure who to tell or how to tell someone.

More people will disclose abuse during research because they are able to do so anonymously and confidentially, without worrying about an investigation from the authorities or the effect on their family.

However, there will be some people who never disclose what happened to them and there is no way of knowing how many people never tell anyone.

Statistics briefings
Find out what available data can tell us about child abuse and neglect

Child deaths

Sexual abuse

Emotional abuse

Physical abuse

Harmful sexual behaviour

Other statistics briefings

Children in care

Coronavirus (COVID-19) impact

Child protection plans and register

Childline and NSPCC Helpline statistics

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