'It's important to step in early when spotting any signs of abuse' - that's the message from a national charity.

The warning from NSPCC comes as statistics reveal more than 300 domestic abuse referrals were made to police and social services in the South West of England in 2016/17. This is a 10 per cent increase from 276 in 2015/2016.

Reports to the NSPCC’s Helpline of children affected by domestic abuse across the UK have increased by 77 per cent over the last four years.

Last year the charity received its highest ever number of contacts from adults concerned about violent and abusive behaviour around children, reaching 4,749 – up more than three quarters from 2012/13. 

Callers were seeking guidance from the NSPCC’s trained advisers after witnessing distressing things such as visible bruises, parents being hospitalised, children being exposed to rage and rough handling, and aggressive behaviour towards parents of young babies.

Some 85 per cent of contacts were so serious that they were referred on to other agencies, such as the police or social services – a higher proportion than were being referred four years ago. 

The statistics come after Ofsted called for a greater emphasis on prevention of domestic abuse and on repairing long-term damage to child victims. 

The NSPCC is piloting an early-intervention service called Steps to Safety which helps families to reduce stress, manage emotions, and respond calmly to conflict. And the charity’s Domestic Abuse, Recovering Together service works with survivors to help get their lives back on track.

NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: “Domestic abuse can have a huge impact on a child’s physical and emotional wellbeing, and this sharp increase in reports shows that more people are speaking up on behalf of frightened children living in violent homes. 

“We all have a part to play in tackling domestic abuse, and it’s important to pick up the phone if you’re concerned so that our trained advisers can offer non-judgemental advice, discuss possibilities and take action where necessary.

“Stepping in early and putting the child at the heart of all decisions in domestic abuse cases is vital in keeping children safe.

“It is vital that young people affected by domestic abuse have access to the right kind of support.”

The NSPCC's Helpline is free and available 24 hours a day. To seek guidance or report a concern, call 0808 800 5000. 

Children and young people who are worried about domestic abuse can call Childline on 0800 11 11.