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I’m concerned about a child but uncertain what to do next

It can be very difficult to know what to do in this situation. It is a delicate and sensitive area to broach with people that can get highly charged and emotional very quickly.

However, early intervention is crucial to the success of helping a child or family. The following information should help you decide what to do.

Should I approach the parents?

Only if you already know them should you ask if everything is OK and whether you can help. Otherwise, if you have immediate concerns, you should contact your regional Social Care department or the police in an emergency. You can find your local authority online or in the local phone book (your library will have one if you don't have one at home).

Should I ask the child certain questions to help me decide if they are being neglected?

If you don't know the child, it is best not to approach them. Read our What is child neglect? page to see if any of the symptoms of child neglect are present. As before, it is better to call the Social Care department or the police if you are still worried.

If a child has shared something with you that causes you concern you can encourage the child to contact Social Care or police. If they don't want to act, then you do need to act on the information that you have received as the child has told you for a reason and that reason is they need help.

Even if you only have partial information this may still be helpful to the social care department who can draw up a complete picture for that child, gathering information from different sources. Your information may not result in formal child protection proceedings but it could help professionals make an informed decision as to the support that the child and family needs now.

What if a child is looking after their mum or dad?

Being a young carer does not necessarily mean they are being neglected - there may still be a warm, loving supportive bond within the family. However, it is important that they are getting support from outside the family to cope with their extra responsibilities. Therefore encouraging them to seek advice and support is important.

How do I know I've identified neglect correctly?

If you are not sure, check with our What is child neglect? page and then if you still have doubts call the Social Care department in your local area and discuss it with them. You would not have to give specifics at this point and have the right to do so anonymously.

It's not about you having a definite answer, but ensuring that the professionals have all the information they need.

What happens when I report child neglect - how quickly will something happen?

It might be that the Social Care department or the police are already working or in contact with the family already. If they are not then it will depend on the particular situation but they will respond as quickly as they can. Their main aim will be to ensure the child's safety. If you think this is at risk, please phone the police now.

Can I report anonymously?

Yes you can - especially if it means you wouldn't report it otherwise. Bear in mind though that it will help the Social Care department and /or the police if they can follow up your concerns with you. However, depending on the nature of the report children's services will have to act if the child is in danger and anonymity cannot be guaranteed.

Can I find out what happens after my report?

No, because of confidentiality reasons you are very unlikely to find out what happens after your report, but please don't let that stop you making contact as you could make all the difference to a child's life.

If you have an immediate concern about a child, you should contact the Social Care department provided by the council in your area who are available 24 hours a day. You can find your council's contact details online or in the phonebook.

If your concern is urgent, please call the police in your area or 999.