Spotting the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships

A campaign tackling child exploitation in Cumbria is today launching its next phase, which will focus on healthy relationships.

Cumbria Safeguarding Children Partnership (CSCP) together with the NSPCC, launched the It’s Not OK campaign in October.

The 12-month campaign has previously covered criminal exploitation and online safety. 

The third phase will highlight the differences between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy relationship; differences in behaviour that an unhealthy relationship can cause; the affect it can have on a child’s mental health; and what we can do to protect the children of Cumbria.

NSPCC Campaigns Manager Mubashar Khaliq said: “Understanding the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships is so important for young people. Even as schools are opening to all pupils, lots of children may find themselves cut off from their usual support networks outside of the school day, as clubs, teams and social activities are still unable to function.

“It is also likely that children will still be spending significantly more time online than they were prior to the start of the pandemic. This combined with the feelings of isolation and loneliness that some are experiencing has created a perfect storm for those seeking to exploit and abuse them. 

“We know from our experience of working with young people in Cumbria, particularly through our Protect and Respect service, the harm to children’s wellbeing and mental health caused by unhealthy relationships. It is so important that we all work together to protect children and young people from becoming victims to those who would take advantage of their vulnerability.”

In 2019, the NSPCC surveyed more than 2,000 young people, aged between 11 and 17, with 4% confirming they had sent, received, or been asked to send sexual messages to an adult online. This doubled to 9% for young people with characteristics that may make them vulnerable, including loneliness, greater usage of social media, unhappiness and liking attention.

The NSPCC's child sexual exploitation experts have also warned that children have been at greater risk of abuse during lockdown, with fears that many may not have been able to get help they need.  Throughout the pandemic, NSPCC Cumbria’s Protect and Respect practitioners have continued to be there for children, and supported over 200 children at risk, despite not being able to deliver face-to-face support. 

Meanwhile, across the UK, Childline saw counselling sessions about child sexual exploitation, grooming, and contact with a person who posed an online sexual abuse risk increase by 18% during the lockdown.

Gill Rigg, Independent Chair of Cumbria Safeguarding Children Partnership (CSCP) said: “It’s important that children and young people are supported and informed about how to keep themselves safe and healthy and have good relationships with others.

“Forming healthy, positive relationships helps children and young people feel safe and supported as they grow up. But being in an unhealthy relationship negatively affects a young person’s wellbeing.

“This is an important campaign to get the message out there, if you’re worried about a young person and you think they are in an unhealthy or abusive relationship that you know how to respond and report concerns.”

Signs that a child might be in an unhealthy relationship include: 

  • Becoming isolated and spending little time with family or friends.
  • Controlling behaviour, such as being told what to wear, always needing to let the person know where they are or what they’re doing or having their social media accounts monitored.
  • Feeling pressured or like they have to do things they’re uncomfortable with. This could include being pressured into sex or to send nudes or sexual images.
  • Having their money, access to food or day-to-day items controlled.
  • Being prevented from working or going to school or college or feeling reluctant to go to school.
  • Persistent changes to a child's mood or behaviour can also be a sign that something's wrong. 
  • Being bullied or experiencing sexual bullying, either online, in private or in front of others at home or in school.

If you have concerns that a child might be in an unhealthy relationship contact the NSPCC helpline for support and advice for free on 0808 800 5000.

Children can contact on 0800 1111.

Alternatively, if it’s an emergency contact the Police on 999.

For more information about the Cumbria, It’s Not OK campaign visit