Terms used in this guideline

Alerting feature

Symptoms and signs that may indicate that child abuse or neglect is taking place, and which should prompt practitioners to take action.


Analysis involves organising the information collected during assessment, judging its significance and exploring different perspectives, to identify themes and reach conclusions on what these mean for the child or young person and their family. It should draw on knowledge from research and practice combined with an understanding of the child's needs.

Attachment-based intervention

Interventions which are based on attachment theory. Attachment-based interventions focus on improving the relationships between children and young people and their key attachment figures (often, parents or carers), for example by helping the parent or carer to respond more sensitively to the child or young person.


Persistent behaviour by a person or group of people that intentionally hurts a child or young person either physically or emotionally.

Child abuse and neglect

In this guideline child abuse and neglect includes inflicting harm on a child or young person and also failing to protect them from harm. Children and young people may be abused by someone they know in a family or in an institutional or community setting or, more rarely, by someone they don't know (for example through the internet). Some indicators of abuse and neglect may be indicators of current or past abuse and neglect.

Child sexual exploitation

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.

Child trafficking

Recruiting and transporting children and young people for the purposes of exploitation, for example, sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, benefit fraud, domestic servitude or the removal of organs.

Children and young people

In this guideline 'infant' means aged under 1 year, 'child' means under 13 years and 'young person' means 13 to 17 years.

Disabled children and young people

Children and young people who meet the Equality Act 2010 definition of disability, namely those who have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on their ability to do normal daily activities.

Domestic abuse

Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.

Early help

Support provided early as soon as a problem emerges. Early help can prevent a problem from worsening or further problems from arising.

Emotional abuse

Persistently treating a child or young person in a way that can cause severe adverse effects on their emotional development. For example, conveying to them that they are worthless or unloved; not giving them opportunities to express their views; deliberately silencing them or making fun of them; imposing inappropriate expectations on them for their age or developmental stage; and serious bullying (including cyber bullying).

Faltering growth

This term is used in relation to infants and young children whose weight gain occurs more slowly than expected for their age and sex. In the past this was often described as a 'failure to thrive' but this is no longer the preferred term.

Female genital mutilation

A practice involving removal of or injury to any part of a girl's external genitalia for non-medical purposes. Female genital mutilation is illegal in England and Wales according to the Female Genital Mutilation 2003 Act.

Forced marriage

A marriage in which one or both partners have not consented (or cannot consent because of a learning disability) to be married and pressure or abuse has been used.

Foster carer

Foster carers care for children and young people who are 'looked after' in the public care system. They must go through a process of assessment and approval, before providing care for the child or young person as a member of their household. Some are 'kinship foster carers', which means they are relatives or friends who are fostering a child or young person who has entered the public care system.

Honour-based abuse

Honour-based abuse includes forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). It can be described as a collection of practices used to control behaviour within families or other social groups to protect perceived cultural and religious beliefs and/or honour. Such abuse can occur when perpetrators perceive that a relative has shamed the family or community by breaking their honour code.

Lead professional

A professional who leads the provision of early help support to children, young people, parents and carers by acting as their advocate and coordinating their support. The lead professional role could be undertaken by a GP, family support worker, teacher, health visitor or a special educational needs coordinator.


In line with the NICE guideline on child maltreatment this includes neglect; physical, sexual and emotional abuse; and fabricated or induced illness. It is also used as an 'umbrella' term for all categories of child abuse and neglect, including witnessing domestic violence, forced marriage, child trafficking, female genital mutilation and child sexual exploitation.


The persistent failure to meet a child's basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child's health or development. Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse. Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to:

  • provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment)

  • protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger

  • ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate caregivers)

  • ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment.

It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child's basic emotional needs.

Parent or carer

This guideline uses 'parent or carer' to acknowledge that people other than a child or young person's parent may be caring for them. We have defined 'parent' as the person with parental responsibility for a child, including an adoptive parent, and 'carer' as someone other than a parent who is caring for a child. This could include family members, such as the partner of a parent. Where we are referring specifically to paid carers we use the term 'foster carer'.

Parenting intervention

A psycho-educational intervention focusing on improving parenting skills.

Past child abuse or neglect

Abuse or neglect that a child or young person may have experienced but which is no longer occurring. For example, abuse which occurred in a previous family environment before the child or young person was placed in care or with an adoptive family.

Physical abuse

A form of abuse which may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating or otherwise causing physical harm to a child. Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or carer fabricates the symptoms of, or deliberately induces, illness in a child.


A person working with children and young people who may have a role in safeguarding them.

Prader-Willi syndrome

A genetic condition leading to a range of symptoms, including over-eating, restricted growth, reduced muscle tone, and learning and behavioural difficulties.

Regulated profession

Regulated professions as defined in section 5B(2)(a), (11) and (12) of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. A person works in a regulated profession if they are a healthcare professional, a teacher, or (in Wales) if they are a social care worker.

Sexual abuse

Involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including through the internet). Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children.

Special guardian

A person who has been granted a special guardianship order (SGO), a private law order which grants someone parental responsibility for a named child or young person. While parents do not lose parental responsibility when an SGO is granted, the special guardian has the exclusive right to exercise it, and make important decisions about the child or young person. Special guardians may also in some circumstances be provided with local authority financial and other support.

Vulnerability factor

Situations, behaviours or underlying characteristics of children, young people and their parents or carers and their social environment that increase the child or young person's vulnerability to child abuse or neglect.

For other social care terms see the Think Local, Act Personal Care and Support Jargon Buster.