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Child abuse and confidentiality

This advice applies to England

If you report concerns about child abuse to an organisation, they may not be allowed to keep this information confidential, even if you don’t want your concerns to be shared with anyone else.

This page tells you more about who has to tell the police or the local authority about child abuse.

If you contact a Citizens Advice Bureau

Generally Citizens Advice Bureaux must keep anything you tell them confidential. However, in cases where there are concerns about child abuse, they may have to report it to the police or the local authority. This is because they must report cases if you are in danger or if someone else is in danger. They have to follow a procedure before they can breach confidentiality, and this includes getting specialist advice from the NSPCC about an individual case. If you're willing to report the allegations yourself, the bureau will give you this option and help you to contact the police, the local authority or a specialist organisation.

If they do take the decision to report concerns about child abuse, they will always tell you that they have done so, unless they are advised not to by the agency they report their concerns to.

If you contact a specialist child abuse organisation

There are a number of specialist organisations which deal with child abuse. Examples include the NSPCC, ChildLine and Stop it now. They all offer a confidential service. This means that if you contact them, you don’t have to give any identifying information such as your address, telephone number or last name. However, if you do give them any identifying information and they are concerned that a child is at risk, or a criminal offence has been committed which the police may not be aware of, they have to pass on that information to the local authority or the police.

If you’re worried that a child you know is being abused, you can report it anonymously to one of these organisations.  

If you contact another agency

You may want to report concerns about child abuse to someone else, such as your local GP, the child’s teacher, or a healthcare professional at a hospital. They all have a legal duty to pass on any suspicions or concerns about child abuse to the local authority or the police.

The local authority

If someone reports a concern to the local authority, social workers will start an investigation if they consider the risk to the child or young person to be significant.  There is no legal definition of 'significant', but in practice it means that there is a real risk to the safety or well-being of the child.  If the child is in immediate danger, they may be taken away from home and taken to a safe place whilst an investigation is carried out.

Normally, the parent is informed that an investigation is being carried out.  However, in some cases, the local authority may make some confidential enquiries, for example, to a school, health visitor or GP before informing the parents.Occasionally, the immediate danger to the child may be so great that it would be considered too dangerous to inform the parents before a child is taken to a safe place.

The police

The police have a legal duty to make enquiries in order to protect children who are suffering, or likely to suffer, from harm.  If the child is 18 or under, this will usually be done together with the local authority.  For example, the police may gather evidence and interview witnesses with social workers.  Even if the local authority isn’t involved, the police can investigate criminal offences that have been, or might be committed in connection with child abuse, whenever the offence took place.  For example, sexual abuse may meet the legal definition of rape, sexual assault or other sexual offences.

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