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Safeguarding Children During the School Holidays

Every couple of months, commuters notice that the roads are quieter, as parents spend the school holidays with their kids. While the majority of families enjoy a well-deserved break, it can be particularly distressing for children coming out of a structured, safe and secure school environment. The school holidays often put a lot of stress on families – especially those experiencing food poverty, childcare problems or financial issues. Statistics show: 

  • There were 16,939 child cruelty offences recorded in 2017/2018, up 52% from the 7,965 recorded in 2012/2013.
  •  3 million children will experience food insecurity, hunger and malnourishment during the summer holidays.
  • The NSPCC received 5,737 calls and emails to over the last year about children being home alone- a third of which happened from July to September
  • Children witness three-quarters of abusive incidents when their parents/carers are in relationships where there’s domestic abuse and violence
  • FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) is hugely under-reported but the number of girls identified as victims or being at risk has more than doubled in the last year
  • During summer,  65,000 British girls under the age of 15 are ‘cut’ as part of a tradition.
  • There were more than 1,000 cases of forced marriage in the UK in 2017.

Every responsible guardian has an ethical and moral obligation to keep children, young people and vulnerable adults safe. When recruiting for a role that requires individuals to work alongside children or vulnerable adults, the prospective employee will need to undergo a basic disclosure check. Whether you’re recruiting someone to be a part of the Neighbourhood Watch Network, a childminder or a summer camp or club leader, it is your responsibility to ensure that procedures are put in place to protect children. We’ve pulled together a list of the most common forms of abuse, and the warning signs so that you can do your bit to help safeguard children. 

The most common forms of child abuse 


Neglect is the most common form of child abuse. According to the NSPCC,  from 2017/18 7,277 children were referred to authorities due to concerns of them being left on their own. They also stated that calls peaked during August – this may be because children do not have access to regular meals as they would in school, and their routine has been disrupted. It’s thought that 10% of children living in Britain are experiencing some form of neglect. All children deserve the basics in life, which include: 

  • Love,
  • Warmth,
  • Attention,
  • Food,
  • Clean clothes, 
  • Safety and security,
  • Attention.

The following are signs that a child is suffering from neglect: 

  • Poor appearance and hygiene,
  • Health and developmental issues,
  • Housing and family problems.

If you suspect a child is being neglected, contact the NSPCC’s free helpline for advice and support. The helpline is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 0808 800 5000. You can also text 88858 or visiting

Forced Marriage and/or FGM 

It’s suspected that 24,000 girls under the age of 15 in the UK are at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM). Because the summer holidays are six weeks or longer, the risk of girls undergoing FGM increases because they have the time to undergo and ‘recover’ from FGM. Even though social, cultural and religious reasons are given to justify FGM, it is a horrific form of child abuse that is dangerous and again the law. This ‘honour-based’ form of violence involves removing part or all of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. 

Forced marriage is another common form of ‘honour-based’ violence and is a criminal offence in the UK. It’s important to remember that forced marriages are not the same as arranged marriages – when someone enters an arranged marriage they have a choice. It’s common for forced marriages to happen abroad and in secret – this type of marriage is usually planned by family members, religious leaders and often entails sexual, emotional or physical abuse. 

The following are signs of forced marriage and FGM (both before and after it has happened): 

  • Difficulty sitting, standing or walking,
  • Long periods of time in the toilet or bathroom,
  • Child becomes withdrawn, anxious or depressed,
  • Comes back to school or college with unusual behaviour,
  • Reluctant or refusing to undergo a normal or routine medical examination,
  • May not be explicit in asking for help due to embarrassment or fear,
  • Repeated prolonged absences from school,
  • Long breaks abroad arranged by family,
  • Academic work suffers, 
  • Running away from school or home. 

If you think FGM or a forced marriage might take place or has taken place (no matter how long ago), contact FGM helpline (0800 028 3550) or email

Child sexual abuse

According to the NSPCC, “around 1 in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused.” It is never a child’s fault that they are sexually abused – in most instances they have been manipulated, tricked or forced into sexual activities. There are two types of sexual abuse – contact and non-contact – you can find out more information from the NSPCC website. The following are signs that a child is being sexually abused:

  • Frightened of being alone with people or someone they used to know.
  • Displaying aggressive language or sexual behaviour that’s out of character and they shouldn’t know.
  • Bed-wetting.
  • Nightmares.
  • Alcohol or drug misuse.
  • Self-harm.
  • Changes in eating habits or developing an eating problem.
  • Significant increase or decrease in time spent online, texting, gaming or using social media.
  • Upset, angry or distant after texting or using the internet. 
  • Lots of texts, emails and numbers on their phone.
  • Very secretive about who they’re talking to online or on the phone. 

If you suspect a child is being sexually abused or at risk of sexual abuse, call 101. If you think they’re in immediate danger then call 999. You can also call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or contact them online.

Online abuse

From cyber-bullying, sexual abuse, grooming, exploitation and emotional abuse there are many types of online abuse, and there is a greater risk of children experiencing this during the holidays, as they use social media to stay in touch with friends. The following are signs that a child is experiencing abuse online:

  • Drastic increase or decrease in the time spent online, texting, gaming or using social media.
  • After using their phone/tablet/computer, they are upset or angry.
  • Secretive about who they’re talking to and what they’re doing

By closely monitoring a child’s online activity, implementing strict privacy settings on their devices and educating your children about the dangers of the internet, you can help prevent online abuse. If you think a child is being abused online, contact 101, Crimestoppers or the NSPCC.