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Signs of child abuse may be physical, emotional or behavioural.

Signs of child abuse may be physical, emotional or behavioural.
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Child abuse

3-minute read

If you believe a child is in immediate danger or in a life-threatening situation call 000. If you wish to report a child protection matter, contact the department responsible for child protection in your state or territory.

Child abuse is any behaviour that harms or could harm a child or young person, either physically or emotionally. It does not matter whether the behaviour is intentional or unintentional.

There are different types of child abuse, and many children experience more than one type:

  • Physical abuse is using physical force to deliberately hurt a child.
  • Emotional abuse is using inappropriate words or symbolic acts to hurt a child over time.
  • Neglect is failing to provide the child with conditions needed for their physical and emotional development and wellbeing.
  • Sexual abuse is using a child for sexual gratification.
  • Witnessing domestic violence is when a child hears or sees a parent or sibling being subjected to any type of abuse, or can see the damage caused to a person or property by a family member’s violent behaviour.

Children are most often abused or neglected by their parents or carers of either sex. Sexual abuse is usually by a man known to the child – a family member, a friend or a member of the school or church community.

Child abuse can affect a child’s physical, psychological, emotional, behavioural and social development through to adulthood.

Recognising the signs of child abuse is important. There may be physical, emotional or behavioural signs such as:

  • broken bones or unexplained bruising, burns or welts
  • not wanting to go home
  • creating stories, poems or artwork about abuse
  • being hungry and begging, stealing or hoarding food.

You should report suspected child abuse to the relevant authority in your state or territory, even if you are not certain it's happening. This is called a notification.

Child protection systems vary depending on which state and territory you live in. This includes definitions of when a child requires protection and when authorities will intervene.

Some occupations are legally required to report suspected cases of child abuse to government authorities. The laws are different between states and territories but the most common occupations are teachers, doctors, nurses and police.

Getting help

If you have hurt your child, or feel like you might hurt them, call Lifeline on 131 114.

If you are a child, teen or young adult who needs help and support, call the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

If you are an adult who experienced abuse as a child, call Blue Knot Helpline on 1300 657 380 or visit their website at

For more information on child abuse visit the Australian Institute of Family Studies website.

Last reviewed: November 2016

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