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Helping a Child in Crisis

Worried about a child?

I’m worried that a child I know is being abused / neglected. What do I do?

If you suspect a child or young person is being harmed or is at risk of harm you should contact the Tusla Social Work Department in the area the child lives in. You can report a concern in writing, in person, by phone or through the Tusla child protection and welfare portal.

If you are unsure whether to report, you should talk your concerns through with a social worker first, by calling the local Tusla Social Work Department. Tusla Social Workers are based at Local Health Offices around the country.

Outside office hours, all child protection concerns should be reported to the Gardaí.

How to respond if a child discloses child abuse

If a child or young person tells you they have been abused:

  • Stay Calm: Be calm and as natural as possible. Don’t panic.
  • Listen: Listen to the child and allow them to disclose at their own pace and in their own language.
  • Accept: Assure the child that you believe them. False disclosures are very rare in young children.
  • Reassure: Reassure the child they are not to blame and that they did the right thing telling you. Explain that you must report what they have said so you can get help for them.

What is child abuse?

There are four categories of abuse:

  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Neglect
  • Sexual

A child may experience more than one type of abuse.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse is when someone deliberately hurts a child physically or puts them at risk of being physically hurt. It may occur as a single incident or repeated incidents.

Physical abuse can include:

  • Physical punishment
  • Beating, slapping, hitting or kicking
  • Pushing, shaking or throwing
  • Pinching, biting, choking or hair pulling
  • Use of excessive force in handling
  • Deliberate poisoning
  • Suffocation
  • Fabricated/ induced illness
  • Female genital mutilation

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse is usually found in the relationship between a parent/carer and a child. Once-off and occasional difficulties between a parent/carer and child are not considered emotional abuse.

Abuse occurs when a child’s basic need for attention, affection, approval, consistency and security are not met, due to incapacity or indifference from their parent/carer. Emotional abuse can also occur when adults responsible for taking care of children are unaware of and unable (for a range of reasons) to meet the children’s emotional and developmental needs. Emotional abuse is not easy to recognise because the effects are not easily seen.

Emotional abuse may include:

  • Rejection
  • Lack of comfort and love
  • Lack of attachment
  • Lack of proper stimulation (for example, fun and play)
  • Lack of continuity of care (for example, frequent moves, particularly unplanned)
  • Continuous lack of praise and encouragement
  • Persistent criticism, sarcasm, hostility or blaming of the child
  • Bullying
  • Conditional parenting in which care of a child depends on his or her behaviours or actions
  • Extreme overprotectiveness
  • Inappropriate non-physical punishment (for example, locking child in bedroom)
  • Ongoing family conflicts and family violence
  • Seriously inappropriate expectations of a child relative to his/her age and stage of development


Neglect occurs when a child does not receive adequate care or supervision to the extent that the child is harmed physically or developmentally. It is generally defined as an omission of care, where a child’s health, development or welfare suffers by being deprived of food, clothing, warmth, hygiene, medical care, intellectual stimulation or supervision and safety.

Emotional neglect such as lack of affection may also lead to the child having attachment difficulties. The extent of the damage to the child’s health, development or welfare is influenced by a range of factors. These factors include the extent, if any, of positive influence in the child’s life as well as the age of the child and the frequency and consistency of neglect.

A reasonable concern for the child’s welfare would exist when neglect becomes typical of the relationship between the child and the parent or carer. This may become apparent where you see the child over a period of time, or the effects of neglect may be obvious based on having seen the child once.

Neglect can include:

  • Children being left alone without adequate care and supervision
  • Malnourishment, lacking food, unsuitable food or erratic feeding
  • Non-organic failure to thrive, that is, a child not gaining weight, due not only to malnutrition but also emotional deprivation
  • Failure to provide adequate care for the child’s medical and developmental needs, including intellectual stimulation
  • Inadequate living conditions – unhygienic conditions, environmental issues, including lack of adequate heating and furniture
  • Lack of adequate clothing
  • Lack of protection and exposure to danger, including moral danger or lack of supervision appropriate to the child age
  • Persistent failure to attend school
  • Abandonment of desertion

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse occurs when a child is used by another person for his or her gratification or arousal, or for that of others. It may include the child being involved in sexual acts or exposing the child to sexual activity directly or through pornography.

Child sexual abuse may cover a wide spectrum of abusive activities. It rarely involves just a single incident and in some instances occurs over a number of years.

Sexual abuse may include:         

  • Any sexual act intentionally performed in the presence of a child
  • An invitation to sexual touching or intentional touching or molesting of a child or child’s body by a person or an object for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification
  • Masturbation in the presence of a child or the involvement of a child in an act of masturbation
  • Sexual intercourse with a child, whether oral, vaginal or anal

Sexual exploitation of a child which includes:

  • Inviting, inducing or coercing a child to engage in prostitution or the production of child pornography on film, videotape or other media or to participate in, or observe, any sexual, indecent or obscene act.
  • Showing sexually explicit material to children, which is often a feature of the ‘grooming’ process by perpetrators of abuse
  • Exposing a child to inappropriate or abusive material through information and communication technology
  • Consensual sexual activity involving an adult and an underage person
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