What is child abuse?

Child abuse can be a single incident or several incidents that take place over time.

The Child Protection Act 1999 focuses on the impact of the abuse on the child, rather than how often the abuse has occurred. In particular, whether the child has suffered significant harm, is suffering significant harm, or is at risk of suffering significant harm. The Act also looks at whether a child who has been harmed has a parent who is able and willing to protect them.

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What causes child abuse?

There are many things that can cause child abuse. The reasons are often complex, and there’s no single or simple explanation.

Most parents want to love and care for their child in a safe home. Stress, tiredness or lack of parenting skills or family support make the pressures of caring for a child overwhelming, and can cause abuse.

Find out more about what can cause child abuse.

How to recognise child abuse

Some children show no signs of being abused, while others may show signs of abuse through their behaviour, emotions or physical appearance.

Some signs can be common across different types of abuse. Other signs may only suggest that a child is experiencing trauma or grief.

Find out how to recognise child abuse.

If you suspect child abuse

Child abuse doesn’t go away and usually becomes more serious over time.

It’s important to act as soon as you suspect child abuse, or if a child tells you they’ve been abused.

Find out what to do if you suspect child abuse is occurring.

Why you should report child abuse

Children often need support to get help, and their families may be too ashamed, distressed or not know how to ask for help. It can be difficult reporting child abuse. People often find it easier to ignore it or avoid thinking about the possibility a child may have been abused.

Find out why it’s so important to report child abuse.

Report child abuse

Phone Triple Zero (000) if it's an emergency or if you believe a child is in immediate danger or in a life-threatening situation.

If you have reason to suspect a child is experiencing, or is at risk of abuse, contact:

  • Regional Intake Service (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)
  • the Child Safety After Hours Service Centre on 1800 177 135 if outside business hours.

Find out how to report child abuse, including what happens when a report is made.