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As child abuse cases increasingly hit the headlines, how do you spot the signs of a vulnerable child?

It was sad to read the story in the press recently about a young lady in Bradford who had suffered years of sexual abuse at the hands of her own father. It was quoted that she had been raped more than 1,000 times for seven years from the age of 10.

This shocking story came to light after a £160,000 compensation payout was won against Bradford City Council as the local authority admitted a ‘breach of duty’ in not removing her from the family home.

With sexual abuse cases increasingly in the media spotlight, it’s worth noting that the UK is one of only two EU countries where the legal process of ‘forced adoption’ is practiced. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the case that state, or ‘forced’ adoption is implemented in order to separate families.

Social services are alerted to cases where a child is believed to be vulnerable and at risk. Social services have a duty to investigate this further. Referrals can come from a neighbour, school or other professional expressing a concern following signs that the child in question is at risk of emotional, physical or sexual abuse.

Forced adoption is very much a last resort.

Once social services have identified that the only remaining option is to remove a vulnerable child from the biological family for their own safety, legal professionals become involved. The overarching priority of all the professional parties involved is to keep families together if it is safe to do so.

We often come across cases of parents who are too frightened to report the abuse or ask for help, for fear of being themselves being judged or due to concerns that authorities will simply remove the child from the home.

This is not always the case.

It is important to talk to a professional if a child is suspected of being at risk, to both protect the child, and to protect the family in avoiding the situation escalating.

It is rare for the vulnerable individual to have the confidence to report the abuse to a trusted adult themselves. Those who do have the courage to tell someone are sadly often not believed and the abuse can continue for years which can leave them significantly traumatised for the rest of their lives.

It can be difficult to identify concrete evidence and many will simply not feel comfortable in interfering however, reporting suspicions that a child may be in danger can make a significant difference if abuse is taking place behind closed doors.

Some common tell-tale signs can include the following:

  • Behavioural changes such as uncharacteristic introversion
  • Overheard aggressive arguments
  • The child stating that ‘it’s a secret’ if asked about their health and wellbeing
  • Signs of ill treatment such as malnourishment, unusual bruising, unkempt appearance

The sad reality is that some cases are missed, however, if spotted and reported for example to a teacher, GP, the police or social services in the first instance, protection is available.

Child proceedings experts at Linder Myers are committed to both protecting vulnerable children and protecting the wellbeing of the family as a whole.

Our specialists have extensive experience in working with families who find themselves in these circumstances, including situations where there is domestic violence. Our team will not judge and fully understand the upset and sensitivity of these matters and will advise of the best options available.

We often deal with emergency situations and can quickly obtain injunctions in many cases in situation of domestic abuse and work with social services and other agencies to provide support to families.

If you recognise signs that a child may be vulnerable, please contact our specialist child proceedings team for a confidential, free chat.

Find out more about our Family department Read ‘The parent’s guide to forced adoption’


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