The iCAN Framework

Based on key findings from the research, ‘It takes a lot to build trust’, we developed a framework to understand what it is like for a child or young person experiencing abuse.

The iCAN framework has three areas, recognition, telling and help. When you’re worried about a child or young person it is important to think about what they might be thinking and feeling - does the child recognise that there is a problem? Are they they able to talk about it? What do they think about the help you offer? In each area of the framework there are examples of how a child or young person might be weighing things up. 


iCAN Framework

Can children get the help they want?

By watching the short video below, you will gain a better understanding of the help aspect of the iCAN wheel.


The iCAN framework includes three possible responses to a child.

Some children receive a holistic response that gets to the root of the problem and addresses the abuse or neglect that is the underlying cause.

Some children receive help with their signs and symptoms. For example a child who is violent or has angry outbursts may be offered anger management support relating to that presenting symptom, but not addressing the abuse or neglect.

Unfortunately some children receive no help.

It is important to highlight that a positive experience of help can lead to a child becoming more likely to tell in the future and can increase the likelihood of a child recognising and understanding harmful situations.

iCAN framework-help

 Help related to causequote

  • Understanding a child's behaviour or unhappiness requires a holistic response including consideration of the possibility of abuse or neglect.
  • Exploring the cause of behaviour requires on-going support. Counselling is one way of allowing children to work through the effect of their experiences


Help related to symptomsquote

  • Sometimes help is offered if a child's behaviour becomes problematic within the school environment. Such help may include anger management or other support relating to the presenting symptoms
  • Help related to symptoms can fail to explore the underlying problems for a child


No helpquote

  • Some children may find the help offered unsuitable or inadequate
  • Help can be overwhelming if too many professionals become involved and this may result in a child disengaging 
  • Some older children age out of services and lose the help and support

Can children and young people recognise abuse and neglect?

In the short video below, Jeanette Cossar explains the recognition part of the iCAN wheel.


Recognition relates to whether a child realises that a situation is abusive.

The outer circle of the framework indicates that a child may move along a spectrum from not recognising to clearly recognising that a situation is abusive or neglectful. Recognition may develop as a child grows older and is able to take a broader perspective and compare their own situation with that of others.

Partial recognition can involve emotional awareness that things are not right before a child can articulate it to themselves or to others.

Recognition often occurs as a result of interacting and talking to others. Clear recognition therefore does not necessarily happen before telling or getting help. Sometimes a child does not recognise that what happened was abuse until years later.

No Recognitionquote

  • A child may not recognise or accept that their experience is abuse
  • A child may not agree with what others define as abuse


Partial Recognitionquote

  • Sometimes a child can feel uncomfortable about a situation before they are able to clearly see that it is not right
  • A child may be uncertain whether the problem is serious enough to tell someone else about


Clear Recognitionquote

  • A child may fully understand an incident or experience as wrong
  • Sometimes sexual and physical abuse may be easier for children to recognise than emotional abuse or neglect

Can children talk about abuse and neglect?

Below, you can learn more about the telling aspect of the iCAN wheel by watching the short video.



Telling can be non-verbal (hidden and signs and symptoms) or verbal (prompted or purposeful) as indicated on the wheel.



A child can remain hidden in several ways. The child may deliberately avoid telling, even when asked. The child may not tell because he or she does not recognise that there is a problem, or may not tell simply because no one asks.

A child may come to your attention through signs and symptoms which can sometimes lead to the child being labelled as a problem rather than a child with problems. Signs and symptoms can include anger and violence to others or to property or a child becoming withdrawn and depressed, taking substances or self-harming.

Prompted telling may happen when an adult asks sensitively about how the child is doing. It helps if you are able to respond thoughtfully to the child’s sign or symptom. It can also happen if you have built up a trusting relationship with a child over time. Children may hint at their situation to test your initial response.

Purposeful telling happens when a child recognises an abusive situation and actively approaches you to tell you about it. This may be some time after the incident, because the child has become increasingly desperate and can't hold it in any longer.


  • Some children do not tell because no one asks
  • Some children may choose not to tell even if asked directly and may deny that there is any issue


quoteSigns and Symptoms

  • Many children do not want to talk about what is going on but they may display angry behaviour or appear withdrawn
  • Often there is a trigger incident which presents as risky behaviour or the expression of emotional symptoms


quotePrompted Telling

  • Some children may be encouraged to talk if they are approached by a member of staff they know well
  • By being kind and responsive a child may begin to tell and gradually open up over time
  • A child may drop hints to check how you react


quotePurposeful Telling

  • Sometimes a child will identify a problem and come to you to tell you about it
  • Children may get a friend or another adult to approach you or think of a way that avoids telling you directly