Emotional Abuse

Page setting out a definition of emotional abuse and possible signs and symptoms.

Failure to provide for the child's basic emotional needs such as to have a severe effect on the behaviour and development of the child.

Scottish Office Guidance 1998

This may include situations where as a result of persistent behaviour by the parent or care-giver, children are rejected, denigrated or scapegoated, engaged in play inappropriate to their stage of development or encouraged to engage in anti-social behaviour, put in a state of terror or extreme anxiety by the use of threats or practices designed to intimidate them, isolated from normal social experiences, preventing the child from forming friendships.

By its very nature, emotional abuse can be difficult to accurately measure and evidence. Attention must be paid to restorative change, e.g. when discussing such factors as weight gain when a child is looked after or accommodated.

Studies have revealed three tiers of concern in cases where emotional abuse has been identified.

Parental attributes, for example, mental ill health, domestic violence and substance misuse.

Forms of adult ill-treatment -  this can include developmentally inappropriate interaction with the child, e.g. age inappropriate interaction/exposure/impositions, denigration and rejection, unresponsiveness.

Indicators of impairment of the child's development, for example, the child's emotional state, behaviour, developmental/educational attainment etc.

Due to the nature of emotional abuse, which tends to be identified via an accumulation of concerns, an interagency assessment will often be the most appropriate response. This would include:

A response such as this must be time limited (e.g. 3 - 6 months) and must be re-assessed with outcomes and child's well being further evaluated. Equally, any period of assessment would depend on the parents' acknowledgement of concerns and willingness to work with professionals. Following this assessment the area manager may wish to consider convening a child protection conference.

Recognition of emotional abuse

The following indicators should be considered by workers when concerns regarding emotional abuse arise.  In some situations the following will be applicable to an individual child within the family or to all children:

Parents' behaviour:

Child's behaviour:

The foregoing recognition and signs should not be used as a checklist or an arithmetical aid or a predictor kit. It is an aid to the exercise of professional judgement and assessment.

This page was added to the website on 2 July 2015