Nearly two thirds of people admit they would be afraid to help a lost child for fear of their intentions been misinterpreted by the public.
According to a survey of 2,899 people in Britain and Northern Ireland, only 47% of adults would approach the child, while 45% said they would stay close by to keep an eye on the situation.
Some people admitted that they would walk away and leave the child stranded but they were in a minority – (3% of men and 1% of women).
Men (73%) were more worried about their intentions being misunderstood than women (56%).
Peter Watt, of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which carried out the survey, said: “In many ways this survey is positive. People are increasingly willing to act if they suspect a child is being abused or neglected. Sadly though, whilst the right intention is there, people naturally hesitate.
“They fear making a mistake or they want to wait until they have more evidence, which usually never arrives.
“And, for men in particular, they worry their motives for approaching a child will be questioned. We need everyone to understand that taking action is always the right thing to do – whether it’s a lost child in the street or an abusive neighbour.”
The survey also revealed that nearly two thirds (62%) of people would be reluctant to report a neighbour they suspected of neglecting their child in case they had made a mistake that would cause unnecessary problems.