Physical abuse is the causing of physical harm to a child or young person. Physical abuse may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning or suffocating.

Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or carer feigns the symptoms of, or deliberately causes, ill health to a child they are looking after. This is called Fabricated or Induced Illness.

Fabricated or induced illness in children is not a common form of child abuse, but practitioners should nevertheless be able to understand its significance. Although it can affect children of any age, fabricated and induced illness is most commonly identified in younger children. Where concerns do exist about the fabrication or induction of illness in a child, practitioners must work together, considering all the available evidence, in order to reach an understanding of the reasons for the child’s signs and symptoms of illnesses. A careful medical evaluation is always required to consider a range of possible diagnoses and a range of practitioners and disciplines will be required to assess and evaluate the child’s needs and family history.

There are three main ways in which a parent/carer can fabricate or induce illness in a child. These are not mutually exclusive and include:

  • fabrication of signs and symptoms, including fabricating the child’s past medical history;
  • fabrication of signs and symptoms and falsification of hospital charts, records and specimens of bodily fluids. This may also include falsification of letters and documents; and
  • induction of illness by a variety of means.