Assessing for bruises on the soul: Identifying and evidencing childhood emotional abuse

Gemma North

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The term ‘emotional abuse’ is acknowledged by law in the Children Act 1989 and refers to the wider social concept of harm that occurs in the psychosocial domain. Emotional abuse is a contested notion and a form of harm that statutory child protection social workers find difficult to recognise and gather evidence of. Early preventative intervention approaches, which occur outside the legal system, are the preferred course of action in work with emotional abuse. However, child protection social workers may use their statutory powers and duties to implement interventions when cases are deemed to require attention within legal frameworks.Professionals routinely fear legal work in cases of emotional abuse, feeling inadequately equipped to engage effectively with the law. This article draws on rich research data, gathered for an Economic and Social Research Council funded doctoral project. The data offers an original perspective on the interaction between social work and law, adding to existing literature on the frictions that exists. Using psychosocial methods, the research explores social worker experiences of identifying and evidencing emotional abuse, with particular attention to the application of ‘attachment theory’. The article shines a light on some practice complexities of identifying and evidencing emotional abuse.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)302-320
    Number of pages19
    JournalJournal of Social Welfare and Family Law
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2019

    Bibliographical note

    This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law on 10/06/2019, available online:


    • Emotional abuse
    • attachment theory
    • child protection
    • psychosocial methods


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