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 physical or emotional ill treatment by someone in a position of responsibility, trust or power that harms or could harm a child’s health, survival, development or dignity.
There are different types of child abuse, and many children experience more than one type.
- Physical abuse: using physical force to deliberately hurt a child
- Emotional abuse: using inappropriate words or symbolic acts to hurt a child over time
- Neglect: failing to provide the child with conditions needed for their physical and emotional development and wellbeing
- Sexual abuse: using a child for sexual gratification
- Exposure to family violence: 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
- Exploitation: when a child is used for someone else’s advantage, gratification or profit often resulting in unjust, cruel and harmful treatment of the child
Children are most often abused or neglected by their parents or carers of either sex. Sexual abuse is usually by a person 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
Read more about how to recognise the signs of child abuse.
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.
If you have hurt your child, or feel like you might hurt them, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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 the website at blueknot.org.au/Helpline.
For more information on child abuse visit the Australian Institute of Family Studies website.
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Last reviewed: November 2020