Why does child abuse happen?

Harm, or risk of harm to children and young people, can occur when stress, tiredness, lack of skills, information and support combine to make the pressures of caring for children overwhelming.

Some of the factors that can contribute to the likelihood of harm include:

  • isolation and lack of support - when there is no one, such as extended family, friends, a partner or community support to help with the demands of parenting
  • stress - financial pressures, job worries, medical problems or taking care of a family member with a disability can increase stress and overwhelm parents
  • unrealistic expectations - a lack of understanding of a child or young person's developmental stages and behaviour
  • lack of parenting skills - not knowing how to help children and young people learn, grow and behave in a positive way
  • drug and alcohol problems - addiction or substance abuse may limit a parent's ability to meet their children's needs
  • low self esteem and self confidence - sometimes insecure parents doubt their ability to meet their child's needs and do not seek help and support
  • poor childhood experiences - intergenerational patterns of abuse.

The presence of one or more of these factors does not by itself prove that a child is being harmed or is at risk of harm, but it can alert you to the possibility that a child may be at risk.

Given the right skills and resources, most people who have harmed a child can learn to parent in a positive way.

Community attitudes are also a contributing factor to child abuse. There is still some acceptance in the community for the use of physical force for the purposes of discipline and punishment of children and young people.

People may not consider it any of their business, may not want to get involved or do not trust child protection authorities, and therefore do not report their concerns.

Attitudes vary across different communities and those that can inadvertently support abuse include:

  • acceptance of the use of violence and force
  • acceptance of physical punishment of children and young people
  • acceptance of parents 'ownership' of children and young people and their right to treat children and young people as they see fit
  • racism
  • inequality between men and women
  • lack of community understanding about the consequences of harm experienced in childhood.