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What constitutes abuse in social services?

Children who are put into care seek refuge from abusive birth parents and neglectful families. Upon finding foster parents, these children deserve to be welcomed into a loving, safe space where they can thrive. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Sometimes, these host parents become foster parents because they recognize that these children in care are vulnerable, and so they apply to the role of foster parents to gain access to the child to exploit them further.

Nowadays, most children who are put into care are put into foster families, however, around 60 years ago children were sent to public institutions known as children’s homes. Between the years of 1960-1990, an inquiry found that more than 700 children in south London care homes suffered cruelty and sexual abuse. Occurring in five care homes across Lambeth, London, The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse found that abusers were able to infiltrate homes and the foster system. One survivor of this “culture of cover-up” recalls being raped at least 500 times by members of staff at the care facility. Consequently, such foster homes cease to represent care, but more sinisterly, violence and terror. This guide to abuse in social services seeks to establish three types of abuse that may occur in such facilities.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is any behaviour that seeks to deliberately criticize, bully, intimidate or manipulate a child. Unlike other types of abuse such as physical abuse, emotional abuse can go undetected because the warning signs can be harder to spot. Emotional abuse in social services might appear in the form of foster parent/s belittling the foster child and telling them that they are unworthy of love. Another example of emotional abuse is the foster parent/s telling the child that if they tell anyone about the abuse then bad things will happen. Unfortunately, abuse in social services is more common than we think. The following gives examples of warning signs of emotional abuse in social services:

  • The child seeming withdrawn and/or anxious
  • Changes to the child’s behaviour
  • Lacking connection with the people surrounding them
  • A poor bond with the foster parent/s
  • Changes to their school performance
  • The child appearing tired and rundown


Like emotional abuse, neglect is a common type of abuse that children in social services can experience. Neglect is the constant failure to adequately provide for a child, whether that be through emotional neglect (lack of love, care, support) or physical neglect (depriving the child of food, proper shelter, and clean clothing or health care). This type of abuse can endanger children and young people and it can also have long-term effects on their physical and mental well-being and development. Neglect can look like:

  • Poor personal hygiene (obvious that the child hasn’t showered)
  • Poor growth or weight gain or being overweight
  • Be short of clothing or supplies to meet physical needs
  • Disheveled appearance (overgrown hair, dirty nails, etc)
  • Hiding food for later
  • Frequent absences from school
  • Not receiving appropriate medical, dental, or psychological care

Sexual Abuse 

It is difficult to imagine sexual abuse occurring in the social services sector however it does happen and understanding the warning signs could save a child’s life. There are two types of sexual abuse: contact and non-contact. Contact sexual abuse is when an adult makes physical contact with a child. For example, touching a child’s genitals or private parts for sexual purposes, making a child touch someone else’s genitals or play sexual games, or putting objects or body parts (like fingers, tongue or penis) inside the vagina, in the mouth, or in the anus of a child for sexual purposes is contact sexual abuse.

Non-contact sexual abuse is where a child is abused without being physically touched by an adult (in this case a foster parent/s). This can involve the perpetrator exposing children to indecent images or flashing themselves to a child. It can also involve encouraging a child to watch or hear sexual acts or inappropriately watching a child use the bathroom. The warning signs of sexual abuse in social services can look like:

  • An inappropriate understanding of sexual behavior for the child’s age
  • A sexually transmitted infection or pregnancy
  • Itching in the genital area
  • Blood in the child’s underwear
  • The child makes a statement about the abuse
  • Inappropriate sexual contact with other children at school

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is when someone hurts or harms a child or young person on purpose. It can include hitting with hands or objects, kicking, shaking, burning, intending to break bones, or drowning a child. Physical abuse involves intentionally causing physical harm to a child or young person. Unlike other types of abuse in social services, the warning signs of physical abuse are easier to spot. The following gives examples of how physical abuse can manifest in the context of social services:

  • Unexplained cuts, bruises, burns, or fractures on a child’s face or body
  • The child covering their body by wearing excessive layers of clothing
  • Unexplained and suspicious injuries
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Timidness around other adults

How we can help

Here at Abuse Claims, we understand that abuse is a sensitive and painful issue to disclose to a stranger. That’s why our team consists of friendly, empathetic solicitors who seek to help clients in a non-judgemental environment. We will hold your hand along the way as we seek justice for the barbaric abuse that you have experienced, whether it be a recent or historic case. Abuse compensation will never make up for what has happened, but it can alleviate some of the financial pressure of expensive aftercare such as therapy.

To find out more, please call +0151 242 5111 for free, confidential advice.